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A grain elevator is an agrarian facility complex designed to stockpile or store grain. In grain trade, the term "grain elevator" also describes a tower containing a bucket elevator or a pneumatic conveyor, which scoops up grain from a lower level and deposits it in a silo or other storage facility.
In most cases, grain elevator also describes the entire elevator complex, including receiving and testing offices, weighbridges, and storage facilities. It may also mean organizations that operate or control several individual elevators, in different locations. In Australia, the term describes only the lifting mechanism.
Before the advent of the grain elevator, grain was usually handled in bags rather than in bulk (large quantities of loose grain). Dart's Elevator was a major innovation. It was invented by Joseph Dart, a merchant, and Robert Dunbar, an engineer, in 1842 and 1843, in Buffalo, New York. Using the steam-powered flour mills of Oliver Evans as their model, they invented the marine leg, which scooped loose grain out of the hulls of ships and elevated it to the top of a marine tower.
Early grain elevators and bins were often built of framed or cribbed wood, and were prone to fire. Grain-elevator bins, tanks, and silos are now usually made of steel or reinforced concrete. Bucket elevators are used to lift grain to a distributor or consignor, from which it falls through spouts and/or conveyors and into one or more bins, silos, or tanks in a facility. When desired, silos, bins, and tanks are emptied by gravity flow, sweep augers, and conveyors. As grain is emptied from bins, tanks, and silos, it is conveyed, blended, and weighted into trucks, railroad cars, or barges for shipment.
In Australian English, the term "grain elevator" is reserved for elevator towers, while a receival and storage building or complex is distinguished by the formal term "receival point" or as a "wheat bin" or "silo". Large-scale grain receival, storage, and logistics operations are known in Australia as bulk handling.
In Canada, the term "grain elevator" is used to refer to a place where farmers sell grain into the global grain distribution system, and/or a place where the grain is moved into rail cars or ocean-going ships for transport. Specifically, several types of grain elevators are defined under Canadian law, in the Canadian Grain Act, section 2.
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Both necessity and the prospect of making money gave birth to the steam-powered grain elevator in Buffalo, New York, in 1843. Due to the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, Buffalo enjoyed a unique position in American geography. It stood at the intersection of two great all-water routes; one extended from New York Harbor, up the Hudson River to Albany, and beyond it, the Port of Buffalo; the other comprised the Great Lakes, which could theoretically take boaters in any direction they wished to go (north to Canada, west to Michigan or Wisconsin, south to Toledo and Cleveland, or east to the Atlantic Ocean). All through the 1830s, Buffalo benefited tremendously from its position. In particular, it was the recipient of most of the increasing quantities of grain (mostly wheat) that was being grown on farms in Ohio and Indiana, and shipped on Lake Erie for trans-shipment to the Erie Canal. If Buffalo had not been there, or when things got backed up there, that grain would have been loaded onto boats at Cincinnati and shipped down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.
By 1842, Buffalo's port facilities clearly had become antiquated. They still relied upon techniques that had been in use since the European Middle Ages; work teams of stevedores use block and tackles and their own backs to unload or load each sack of grain that had been stored ashore or in the boat's hull. Several days, sometimes even a week, were needed to serve a single grain-laden boat. Grain shipments were going down the Mississippi River, not over the Great Lakes/Erie Canal system.
A merchant named Joseph Dart Jr., is generally credited as being the one who adapted Oliver Evans' grain elevator (originally a manufacturing device) for use in a commercial framework (the trans-shipment of grain in bulk from lakers to canal boats), but the actual design and construction of the world's first steam-powered "grain storage and transfer warehouse" was executed by an engineer named Robert Dunbar. Thanks to the historic Dart's Elevator (operational on 1 June 1843), which worked almost seven times faster than its nonmechanized predecessors, Buffalo was able to keep pace with—and thus further stimulate—the rapid growth of American agricultural production in the 1840s and 1850s, but especially after the Civil War, with the coming of the railroads.
The world's second and third grain elevators were built in Toledo, Ohio, and Brooklyn, New York, in 1847. These fledgling American cities were connected through an emerging international grain trade of unprecedented proportions. Grain shipments from farms in Ohio were loaded onto ships by elevators at Toledo; these ships were unloaded by elevators at Buffalo that shipped their grain to canal boats (and, later, rail cars), which were unloaded by elevators in Brooklyn, where the grain was either distributed to East Coast flour mills or loaded for further shipment to England, the Netherlands, or Germany. This eastern flow of grain, though, was matched by an equally important flow of people and capital in the opposite direction, that is, from east to west. Because of the money to be made in grain production, and of course, because of the existence of an all-water route to get there, increasing numbers of immigrants in Brooklyn came to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to become farmers. More farmers meant more prairies turned into farmlands, which in turn meant increased grain production, which of course meant that more grain elevators would have to be built in places such as Toledo, Buffalo, and Brooklyn (and Cleveland, Chicago, and Duluth). Through this loop of productivity set in motion by the invention of the grain elevator, the United States became a major international producer of wheat, corn, and oats.
In the early 20th century, concern arose about monopolistic practices in the grain elevator industry, leading to testimony before the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1906.This led to several grain elevators being burned down in Nebraska, allegedly in protest.
Today, grain elevators are a common sight in the grain-growing areas of the world, such as the North American prairies. Larger terminal elevators are found at distribution centers, such as Chicago and Thunder Bay, Ontario, where grain is sent for processing, or loaded aboard trains or ships to go further afield.
Buffalo, New York, the world's largest grain port from the 1850s until the first half of the 20th century, once had the United States' largest capacity for the storage of grain in over 30 concrete grain elevators located along the inner and outer harbors. While several are still in productive use, many of those that remain are presently idle. In a nascent trend, some of the city's inactive capacity has recently come back online, with an ethanol plant started in 2007 using one of the previously mothballed elevators to store corn. In the early 20th century, Buffalo's grain elevators inspired modernist architects such as Le Corbusier, who exclaimed, "The first fruits of the new age!" when he first saw them. Buffalo's grain elevators have been documented for the Historic American Engineering Record and added to the National Register of Historic Places. Currently, Enid, Oklahoma, holds the title of most grain storage capacity in the United States.
In farming communities, each town had one or more small grain elevators that served the local growers. The classic grain elevator was constructed with wooden cribbing and had nine or more larger square or rectangular bins arranged in 3 × 3 or 3 × 4 or 4 × 4 or more patterns. Wooden-cribbed elevators usually had a driveway with truck scale and office on one side, a rail line on the other side, and additional grain-storage annex bins on either side.
In more recent times with improved transportation, centralized and much larger elevators serve many farms. Some of them are quite large. Two elevators in Kansas (one in Hutchinson and one in Wichita) are half a mile long. The loss of the grain elevators from small towns is often considered a great change in their identity, and efforts to preserve them as heritage structures are made. At the same time, many larger grain farms have their own grain-handling facilities for storage and loading onto trucks.
Elevator operators buy grain from farmers, either for cash or at a contracted price, and then sell futures contracts for the same quantity of grain, usually each day. They profit through the narrowing "basis", that is, the difference between the local cash price, and the futures price, that occurs at certain times of the year.
Before economical truck transportation was available, grain elevator operators sometimes used their purchasing power to control prices. This was especially easy, since farmers often had only one elevator within a reasonable distance of their farms. This led some governments to take over the administration of grain elevators. An example of this is the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. For the same reason, many elevators were purchased by cooperatives.
A recent problem with grain elevators is the need to provide separate storage for ordinary and genetically modified grain to reduce the risk of accidental mixing of the two.
In the past, grain elevators sometimes experienced silo explosions. Fine powder from the millions of grains passing through the facility would accumulate and mix with the oxygen in the air. A spark could spread from one floating particle to the other, creating a chain reaction that would destroy the entire structure. (This dispersed-fuel explosion is the mechanism behind fuel-air bombs.) To prevent this, elevators have very rigorous rules against smoking or any other open flame. Many elevators also have various devices installed to maximize ventilation, safeguards against overheating in belt conveyors, legs, bearing, and explosion-proof electrical devices such as electric motors, switches, and lighting.
Grain elevators in small Canadian communities often had the name of the community painted on two sides of the elevator in large block letters, with the name of the elevator operator emblazoned on the other two sides. This made identification of the community easier for rail operators (and incidentally, for lost drivers and pilots). The old community name often remained on an elevator long after the town had either disappeared or been amalgamated into another community; the grain elevator at Ellerslie, Alberta, remained marked with its old community name until it was demolished, which took place more than 20 years after the village had been annexed by Edmonton.
One of the major historical trends in the grain trade has been the closure of many smaller elevators, and the consolidation the grain trade to fewer places and among fewer companies. For example, in 1961, 1642 "country elevators" (the smallest type) were in Alberta, holding 3,452,240 tonnes (3,805,440 short tons) of grain. By 2010. only 79 "primary elevators" (as they are now known) remained, holding 1,613,960 tonnes (1,779,090 short tons).
In 2017, the United States had 0.88 cubic kilometres (25 billion US bushels) of storage capacity, a growth of 25% in the previous decade
The city of Buffalo is not only the birthplace of the modern grain elevator, but also has the world's largest number of extant examples.A number of the city's historic elevators are clustered along "Elevator Alley", a narrow stretch of the Buffalo River immediately adjacent to the harbor. The alley runs under Ohio Street and along Childs Street in the city's First Ward neighborhood.
In Canada, the term "elevator row" refers to a row of four or more wood-crib prairie grain elevators.
In the early pioneer days of Western Canada's prairie towns, when a good farming spot was settled, many people wanted to make money by building their own grain elevators. This brought in droves of private grain companies. Towns boasted dozens of elevator companies, which all stood in a row along the railway tracks. If a town were lucky enough to have two railways, it was to be known as the next Montreal. Many elevator rows had two or more elevators of the same company. Small towns bragged of their large elevator rows in promotional pamphlets to attract settlers. With so much competition in the 1920s, consolidation began almost immediately, and many small companies were merged or absorbed into larger companies.
In the mid-1990s, with the cost of grain so low, many private elevator companies once again had to merge, this time causing thousands of "prairie sentinels" to be torn down. Because so many grain elevators have been torn down, Canada has only two surviving elevator rows; one located in Inglis, Manitoba, and the other in Warner, Alberta. The Inglis Grain Elevators National Historic Site has been protected as a National Historic Sites of Canada. The Warner elevator row is, as of 2019, not designated a historic site, and is still in use as commercial grain elevators.
All companies operating elevators in Canada are licensed by the Canadian Grain Commission.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, one particularly well-defended Soviet strongpoint was known simply as "the Grain Elevator" and was strategically important to both sides.
This is a list of grain elevators that are either in the process of becoming heritage sites or museums, or have been preserved for future generations.
Given a large enough suspension of combustible flour or grain dust in the air, a significant explosion can occur. A historical example of the destructive power of grain explosions is the 1878 explosion of the Washburn "A" Mill in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which killed 18, leveled two nearby mills, damaged many others, and caused a destructive fire that gutted much of the nearby milling district. (The Washburn "A" mill was later rebuilt and continued to be used until 1965.) Another example occurred in 1998, when the DeBruce grain elevator in Wichita, Kansas, exploded and killed seven people.A recent example is an explosion on October 29, 2011 at the Bartlett Grain Company in Atchison, Kansas. The death toll was six people. Two more men received severe burns, but the remaining four were not hurt.
Almost any finely divided organic substance becomes an explosive material when dispersed as an air suspension; hence, a very fine flour is dangerously explosive in air suspension. This poses a significant risk when milling grain to produce flour, so mills go to great lengths to remove sources of sparks. These measures include carefully sifting the grain before it is milled or ground to remove stones, which could strike sparks from the millstones, and the use of magnets to remove metallic debris able to strike sparks.
The earliest recorded flour explosion took place in an Italian mill in 1785, but many have occurred since. These two references give numbers of recorded flour and dust explosions in the United States in 1994:and 1997 In the ten-year period up to and including 1997, there were 129 explosions.
Canadian Prairie grain elevators were the subjects of the National Film Board of Canada documentaries Grain Elevatorand Death of a Skyline.
During the sixth season of the History Channel series Ax Men , one of the featured crews takes on the job of dismantling the Globe Elevator in Wisconsin. This structure was the largest grain-storage facility in the world when it was built in the 1880s.
Agricore United was a farmer-directed agribusiness in Canada. It supplied crop nutrition and crop protection products, and offered grain handling and marketing services. It was created on November 1, 2001 by the merger of Agricore and United Grain Growers. It was headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Its shares were publicly traded on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) under the symbol "AU" until June 15, 2007, when it was taken over by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. Agri-business giant Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) had a 28% stake in the company at the time of the takeover.
The Alberta Wheat Pool was the first of Canada's wheat farmer co-operatives in 1923.
The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool was a grain handling, agri-food processing and marketing company based in Regina, Saskatchewan. The Pool created a network of marketing alliances in North America and internationally which made it the largest agricultural grain handling operation in the province of Saskatchewan. Before becoming Viterra, SWP had operated 276 retail outlets and more than 100 grain handling and marketing centres. The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool operated under the name of AgPro in the prairie provinces of Manitoba and Alberta. Begun as a co-operative in the 1920s, the company became a publicly traded corporation in the 1990s. After the 2007 takeover of its competitor, Winnipeg-based Agricore United, the Pool name was retired. The merged company operated under the name Viterra until 2013, when it was acquired by Glencore International.
Maybutt, also known as "New Stirling" or "New Town", is a former locality in the County of Warner No. 5, Alberta, Canada. The community is situated 1 km north of the Village of Stirling just off the CANAMEX Corridor between Lethbridge and the Canada–US border. The community has become a bedroom community to Lethbridge, with many newer acreages being developed in the area. The footprint of Maybutt is defined by its historic boundary roads, Young St., Sunnyside Ave., Front St. & Lorne Ave, and Etzikom Ave. York St., First Ave. and Second Ave. are the only interior streets left of the original street grid of Maybutt.
Viterra began as a Canadian grain handling business, the nation's largest grain handler, with its historic formative roots in prairie grain-handling cooperatives, among them the iconic Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. Viterra Inc grew into a global agri-business with operations in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and China. Viterra operated three distinct, inter-related businesses: Grain Handling & Marketing, Agri-Products and Processing, enabling it to generate earnings at various points on the food production chain from field to the table. Following its $6.1-billion acquisition by Glencore International, on 1 January 2013 Viterra was merged with Glencore purchaser, 8115222 Canada Inc., headquartered in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
A wheat pool is a co-operative that markets grain on behalf of its farmer-members.
Richardson International Limited is a privately held Canadian agricultural and food industry company headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The company is one of several companies that are owned by James Richardson & Sons Limited. The company is a worldwide handler and merchandiser of all major Canadian-grown grains and oilseeds and a vertically-integrated processor and manufacturer of oats and canola-based products. Richardson has over 2,500 employees across Canada, the U.S. and U.K. Richardson International is a subsidiary of James Richardson & Sons, Limited, established in 1857.
The Warner elevator row is a group of four historic wood-cribbed grain elevators standing in a row from south to north alongside the Canadian Pacific Railway line from Great Falls, Montana to Lethbridge, Alberta at the east entrance of the village of Warner, Alberta, Canada. At one time, the row had at least seven elevators.
The Krause Milling Co grain elevator and flour mill site complex is composed of a 1929 grain elevator, drive shed, office/powerhouse, storage building and foundation of the 1929 flour mill, in the center of Radway, Alberta.
The Ritchie Mill is the oldest surviving flour mill in the province of Alberta.
St. Albert Grain Elevator Park is an open-air museum which features two historic grain elevators and a reconstructed railway station.
Robin Hood Flour is a brand of flour made by the Horizon Milling division of Cargill. The brand is marketed to the food service and industrial section by Horizon Milling and the consumer retail sector by The J.M. Smucker Company.
Charles William Gibbings (1916-2009) was born on a farm near Rosetown, Saskatchewan, Canada on August 10, 1916. After earning a BSc in Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan, Gibbings taught at the University's School of Agriculture and conducted youth training programs across the province, both while continuing to farm.
Horizon, located on the south side of Channel Lake, is a hamlet in Bengough Rural Municipality No. 40, Saskatchewan, Canada. It previously held the status of a village until December 31, 1973. The hamlet is located 60 km (37 mi) east of the Town of Assiniboia on highway 13.
The Cargill Pool Elevator is a grain storage facility in Buffalo harbor built in the 1920s and previously named the Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator. The elevator is the only grain elevator in Buffalo that is located directly adjacent to Lake Erie.
Manitoba Pool Elevators was a grain trade company founded in 1924. It became a subsidiary of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool until November 1932, when the Pool declared bankruptcy. In 1998 Alberta Wheat Pool and Manitoba Pool Elevators merged to form Agricore Cooperative Limited. In 2001, United Grain Growers combined its business operations with Agricore Cooperative Ltd. and carried on business as Agricore United, a publicly traded company, no longer a farmer-owned cooperative. In 2007, Agricore United was taken over by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, another publicly traded company. The merged corporation was renamed Viterra.
The Saskatchewan Grain Growers' Association (SGGA) was a farmer's association that was active in Saskatchewan, Canada in the early 20th century. It was a successor to the Territorial Grain Growers' Association, and was formed in 1906 after Saskatchewan became a province. It provided a voice for farmers in their struggle with grain dealers and the railways, and was influential in obtaining favorable legislation. The association initially resisted calls to create a farmer-owned marketing company. Later it did support formation of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company. The SGGA helped the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, a cooperative marketing organization, to become established in 1924. In 1926 the SGGA merged with the more radical Farmers' Union of Canada, which had earlier split from the SGGA, to create the United Farmers of Canada,
The Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company (SCEC) was a farmer-owned enterprise that provided grain storage and handling services to farmers in Saskatchewan, Canada between 1911 and 1926, when its assets were purchased by the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.
The Alberta Farmers' Co-operative Elevator Company (AFCEC) was a farmer-owned enterprise that provided grain storage and handling services to farmers in Alberta, Canada between 1913 and 1917, when it was merged with the Manitoba-based Grain Growers' Grain Company (GGGC) to form the United Grain Growers (UGG).
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