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Who built the FIRST water-powered mill?


It appears that the first ever written mention of a water-powered mill may have been by the Roman architect and military engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (c. 80–70 BC – after c. 15 BC). In his extensive work "Ten Books on Architecture," probably written between 30-20 BC, Vitruvius clearly described a water mill that any 19th century miller would recognize:

Water Wheels and Water Mills

1. Wheels on the principles that have been described above are also constructed in rivers. Round their faces flatboards are fixed, which, on being struck by the current of the river, make the wheel turn as they move, and thus, by raising the water in the boxes and bringing it to the top, they accomplish the necessary work through being turned by the mere impulse of the river, without any treading on the part of workmen.

2. Water mills are turned on the same principle. Everything is the same in them, except that a drum with teeth [gear] is fixed into one end of the axle. It is set vertically on its edge, and turns in the same plane with the wheel. Next to this larger drum there is a smaller one, also with teeth, but set horizontally, and this is attached (to the millstone). Thus the teeth of the drum which is fixed to the axle make the teeth of the horizontal drum move, and cause the mill to turn. A hopper, hanging over this contrivance, supplies the mill with corn*, and meal is produced by the same revolution.

Ed. Note: This work had been translated by a language professor, who apparently was unaware that corn wasn’t introduced to Europe until the 15th century. No doubt the translation above should have read; grain and flour. 

(Source - Vitruvius, Ten Books on Architecture, Book X, Chapter V - Water Wheels and Water Mills. Translated by Morris H. Morgan, PH.D., LL. D

Early Roman water-mill drawing

Another early mention of a “water-mill” was by Strabo (64 or 63BC – 24AD), a Greek geographer and historian that lived in Asia minor two thousand years ago (during the time of Christ.) He reported in his work "Geographica:"

Title page of the 1620 edition of Isaac Casaubon's Geographica, whose 840 page numbers prefixed by "C" are now used as a standard text reference.

“At Cabeira was the palace of Mithridates, the water-mill, the park for keeping wild animals, the hunting-ground in the neighbourhood, and the mines.”

This isn’t much to go on and it leaves us to wonder just what kind of mill it was, but presumably it was for making flour for the palace.

(Mithridates was ruler of the Kingdom of Pontus in northern Anatolia and modern scholars put Cabeira where present day Niksar, Turkey is, about 40 miles south of the Black Sea.)

Niksar (Cabeira), Turkey

So, we still don't know who built the very first water-powered mill, but it seems likely that it was a Roman, sometime in the late BC era. Apparently it was not Archimedes, (born c. 290–280 BC, died 212/211 BC,), the legendary Greek inventor and mathematician. While he does get credit for a few mechanical devices, like the screw conveyor, his principal focus was on pure mathematics.


Fall Leaf Colors

I took the following pictures at Abbotts Mill Nature Center last week, along the stream-side boardwalk loop. I realize that they aren't all as sharp as they should be, but concentrate on the bright colors as this year the fall colors seem to be especially vibrant. Most of these pictures are of Red Maple leaves.

Dogwood leaves

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Rick Schuman
Rick Schuman

I suppose it must be a good thing that people finally started writing things down.

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