The Spanish operated a few crude mills at Texas missions, but the first American settlers in Texas manufactured meal by pounding corn with a wooden pestle in a mortar hollowed out of a log or stump as the Indians had done. By 1826 there were several mills in Texas, operated by hand or powered by horses or mules. A primitive mill was constructed between two trees of convenient size and separation. A beam extended horizontally from tree to tree about ten feet above the ground. In its center was a hole for a vertical shaft that extended downward to the millstone. A mule hitched to a horizontal arm set into the shaft was made to walk in a circle. Frequently, several such arms and two or more mules or horses were used. One unique early mill in Grayson County was powered by a 125-foot cogged wheel turned by oxen, the cogs in the periphery of the driving wheel meshing into the mill machinery. This large, cogged driving wheel was tilted so that oxen walking up its slope on the right of the axis caused the wheel to rotate clockwise. One of the first mills propelled by water was a saw and grist mill built in 1826 on Mill Creek by James, John, and William Cumings. In 1833 Stephen F. Austin stated that there were two steam sawmill-gristmills and six water-powered mills in his colony. In 1837 the Congress of the Republic of Texas chartered the Texas Steam Mill Company of Harris County. This organization rapidly became specialized in lumber milling, as did other smaller mills. It milled grist only on request.
Flour and grist milling was the first-ranking Texas industry until after the Civil War, and hundreds of mills of various capacities were scattered throughout the state. The old burr mill was gradually superseded by roller mills. In 1880 flouring, as it came to be called, and gristmill products again held first rank by value over all other Texas manufactured products. In 1890 flouring and gristmill products had dropped to second place, and in 1900 to third. From 1910 to 1940 they consistently held fourth place, while both quantity and value of the products increased with the introduction of modern methods and equipment. The total value of the products of sixty-seven mills in 1940 was more than $12 million. By 1950 the Texas milling industry was conducted largely by big corporations, and custom milling had become a thing of the past.
With favorable railroad rates on wheat transportation, Texas flour, meal, and animal-feed millers have located large plants near ready access to consumer markets-in urban areas, on major rail lines, and near Gulf Coast shipping points, rather than in grain-producing regions. Even so, most grain mills continue to be small operations producing animal feeds for local markets. In 1954 grain mills employed 5,966 persons in all capacities, and had a value added by manufacture of $48,327,000. That year's production represented a postwar low for the 166 Texas mills (excluding sixteen rice mills) then in operation; only 26 million bushels of wheat were ground that year, for instance, compared to more than 50 million bushels in 1947.
Texas ranked sixth among the states in wheat-flour production in 1957, with a total production of fourteen million sacks milled from 32 million bushels of wheat. By 1958 almost all Texas wheat milling was in the hands of three major flour and meal producers (General Mills, Burrus Mills, and Pioneer Mills) and seven smaller producers (including Fant Milling of Sherman, Seguin Milling, Graham Mills, and Morrison Milling of Denton). In that year General Mills operated at Kenedy the only guar mill in Texas and established at Garland the state's first plant for prepared and refrigerated bakery products. In 1960 General Mills introduced a new process that sharply cut the handling and processing steps in flour milling. The so-called Bellera "air spun" process was hailed as the most important development in the milling industry in fifty years.
By 1963 Texas had 211 mills of all types (excluding sixteen rice mills), twenty-five of them producing wheat flour. These mills employed 6,190 Texans and added $83,489,000 in value by manufacture. In July 1965, General Mills closed down two of its mills in Texas as a result of overcapacity in the milling industry and of rising material, transportation, and manufacturing costs. Although by 1970 a total of twenty-six mills continued to produce wheat flour in Texas, corporate consolidation in the previous decade had reduced both the number of business organizations operating mills and the number of Texas-based enterprises. Burrus Mills had become a division of ELTRA Corporation of New York, Fant Mills was operated by Nebraska Consolidated Mills Company, and the H. Dittlinger Roller Mills Company of New Braunfels was a division of Flour Mills of America, Incorporated, of Kansas City. General Mills continued operations in Texas. Two of its principal competitors, the Quaker Oats Company and the Peavey Company of Minneapolis, located large mills respectively in Houston and Dallas. Major locally owned mills were Pioneer Flour Mills, Superior Foods of Fort Worth, and the mills of Kimball, Incorporated, located in Fort Worth, Gruver, Seguin (Seguin Milling Company), and Graham (Graham Mill and Elevator Company). Morrison Milling Company in Denton and Wendland Farm Products, Incorporated, of Temple were the only other Texas-based mills of consequence. Most wheat milling was concentrated in the Sherman, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio areas.
In 1972 a total of 209 grain-milling establishments operated statewide, employing roughly 7,600 workers and producing products including rice, corn products, blended and prepared flour, and prepared feed for animals. Milled products were valued at $208 million. In 1973 foreign imports of grain-mill products totaled only 292 short tons, but exports totaled 286,701 short tons. The state received 2,278 short tons of domestic grain-mill products and shipped 15,141 short tons to domestic markets. Most wheat harvested for grain in Texas was used in the milling industry. Hard red winter wheat was used to produce commercial bakery flour, and soft red winter wheat was used for small-packaged flours. By-products of milled wheat were used for feed.
In 1954 rice milling centered in Comet Rice, which owned and operated three of the sixteen Texas rice mills, located mainly along the Gulf Coast. In that year the industry employed 1,304 persons and had a value added by manufacturing of $8,554,000. As Texas rice farmers expanded cultivation, the rice-milling industry almost tripled the value added by manufacturing, to $20,749,000 in 1958 and $24,432,000 in 1963. The number of rice mills and employees remained approximately the same during this time. In 1970, nine rice mills were operating, mainly in the Houston and Beaumont-Port Arthur-Orange metropolitan statistical areas. The two Comet Rice mills in Houston and Beaumont dominated this industry, but Riviana Foods of Houston and General Foods Corporation of White Plains, New York, also operated large rice mills in Houston.
By 1982 workers employed in grain milling across the state had risen to 7,600, and value added by manufacture to more than $436 million. In that year 17 establishments employing 1,100 workers produced flour and other grain-mill products with a value added by manufacture of more than $101 million, 12 establishments with 1,100 workers produced rice with a value added by manufacture of more than $97 million, 9 establishments with 600 workers produced flour mix and doughs valued at more than $121 million, and 103 establishments with 2,500 employees produced prepared feed valued at more than $138 million. Value added was unavailable for 12 establishments that produced dog and cat food. In 1987, 156 grain-milling establishments were in operation statewide, sixty-four of which had twenty employees or more. Though employees throughout the industry had fallen to 5,900, value added by manufacture rose to more than $500 million. By 1990 only 5,200 workers remained, but value added by manufacture had increased to a new high of more than $592 million. See also AGRICULTURE, CORN CULTURE, RICE CULTURE, WHEAT CULTURE.