A Brief History of Milbank Mills
1867 -- 125th Anniversary -- 1992
In 1992, Milbank Mills is celebrating its 125th anniversary of operation in Chillicothe. Milbank Mills, manufacturers of Silver Moon Feed, have been owned and operated by members of the Milbank family, since the company's founding in Chillicothe, in 1867, by George Milbank.
The Milbank family had operated mills in Virginia and in Illinois, prior to 1867. According to family tradition, George Milbank suffered losses in the War Between The States, and came to Chillicothe, Missouri, in 1867, to reestablish his business, with a total of $800.00 in capital. This was used to purchase property and to erect a mill, but the $800.00 in capital was not sufficient to purchase wheat, which was to be used in milling for the manufacture of flour. To solve this financial problem, George Milbank issued script, which he called "Flour Due Bills", and which were payable in flour, rather than in gold or silver. Nonetheless, George Milbank's reputation was such that the "Flour Due Bills" were accepted as money, and circulated then, just as currency would today.
As an historical footnote, Milbank Mills continue to carry a liability on their books, amounting to $7.40, for unredeemed "Flour Due Bills". Since the company archives contain no examples of this script, Milbank Mills would be more than happy to redeem them - but even more importantly, this is solid evidence that for more than 125 years, Milbank Mills have always stood behind their obligations!
Although George Milbank's mill was a "state of the art" mill in 1867, many of its features seem outdated and antiquated to us today. At that time, wheat was harvested by cutting it, and then later thrashing it. The thrashed wheat was then bagged, and transported to the mill in bags, for storage in a warehouse. It was not until the actual milling process commenced that the wheat was emptied from the bags and handled in bulk. Traditionally, wheat was bagged in two bushel bags, which weighed 120 pounds; these bags were then carried on the shoulder of a warehouseman, who stacked them in pyramid shaped piles, through walking up the side of the pile carrying a bag. Fortunately for us today, this very labor intensive system was replaced by today's method of bulk handling, and George Milbank added a grain storage elevator to his mill, some time in the 1870's.
Lighting in George Milbank's first mill was accomplished by whale oil lamps; light was necessary, since even at that early date, the mill operated 24 hours per day. Equipment in the mill was powered by a central steam engine, which transmitted power to the various machines through line shafts and flat belting. Since there was no source of city water at that time, George Milbank constructed a mill pond, from which water was pumped to boil for steam, to power the steam engine.
Although George Milbank's mill was originally constructed to produce flour and corn meal for table use, it was early discovered that the by-products of flour milling (the bran and shorts), which had at one time been discarded as trash, were very useful for livestock feed. With this discovery, the production of livestock feed became an important addition to the products manufactured by the mill. Today, we think of "recycling" as an important part of the modern ecological movement; actually, the feed industry has been "recycling" products not used for table food -- but very appropriate for livestock food -- for more than a century!
George Milbank continued in active management until 1897, when management passed to two of his sons, John T. and Henry S. Milbank. The two brothers operated the company as a partnership until 1907, when John T. Milbank purchased his brother's interest.
During the time of John T. Milbank's management, the mill in Chillicothe continued to grow and to prosper. Additional capacity was added, and in 1904, during a visit to the St. Louis World's Fair, John T. Milbank was so impressed with a new type of steam engine, that he purchased the demonstration model at the Fair, and following the Fair's conclusion, this was shipped to Chillicothe, where it powered the mill for the next 30 years.
In turn, John T. Milbank retired in 1931, and was succeeded by his son, John Palmer Milbank. The year 1931 found the Country in the midst of the Depression, and as such, it was certainly not an auspicious time to begin a business career. Nonetheless, John Palmer Milbank continued to modernize and expand the mill's operation. The St. Louis World's Fair steam engine was replaced with a newer and more modern diesel engine: laboratory testing equipment was added, to insure the highest quality product; automated handling was further expanded, and new labor saving devices installed.
The original mill location had been on the outskirts of Chillicothe at the time George Milbank arrived in 1867, but in the following century, the town grew around the mill. By 1954, additional space was needed, and John Palmer Milbank began another expansion. In that year, a factory in Chillicothe, that had originally been built to produce hay rakes and hay stackers, and that had failed to change and to modernize with the advent of hay balers, failed and closed its doors. The buildings were purchased by John Palmer Milbank to use for additional storage in conjunction with the mill's operation at the original site, which by that time was in downtown Chillicothe. Operation at both locations continued until 1963, when a new and fully automated mill was constructed at the location of the former hay rake and stacker company, and all operations consolidated at that site.
John Palmer Milbank had been joined by his son, Edward P. Milbank, in 1961. In 1970, Edward P. Milbank became president of the company, representing the fourth generation of his family to be actively involved in the management of Milbank Mills at Chillicothe.
While the mill had begun as a flour mill, animal and poultry feeds had very early been an important part of the business. As they became increasingly important, and as trends in home baking and flour use declined, a decision was made, in 1962, to discontinue the production of flour, and to concentrate exclusively on the production of livestock and poultry feeds. The brand name "Silver Moon" had been used as a flour brand from the earliest days of the mill; this brand was also used for livestock feeds, and is today the name -- Silver Moon Feeds -- by which the company is best known.
At the time the company's feed operation were transferred to the present location, in 1963, the new mill represented the latest advances in automation and high technology. Consistent with the company's history, continuous improvements have been made to this facility, so that today Silver Moon Feeds are produced in a true "state of the art" facility, in which mixing and weighing operations are controlled by process computers; pelleting operations are monitored by another computer system, which automatically adds just the right amounts of molasses, fats, and other liquids; electronic digital readouts are used for weighing systems; and in general, feed can be produced "without being touched by human hands".
In addition to continuous modernization in the feed mill, office and accounting operations also utilize the latest automation techniques. All customer records are immediately available, thanks to the wonders of modern computer technology, and a small office staff is able to handle all tasks, thus permitting greater value to customers, through reduced overhead costs.
For 125 years, Milbank Mills have tried to combine the best of both worlds: a company that is large enough and strong enough to meet the needs of its customers, while at the same time a company that is small enough to care about its customers, and to give personalized, responsive service. The company has always kept in mind an ancient Greek maxim "It is always in season for wise men to learn". Even though the company has passed its 125th birthday, it continues to learn, and to look always for new and better ways to serve its customers.