From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Is this article too narrow?[edit]

Are "watermills" really confined to milling grain? What is the word that describes the buildings containing all the other industrial applications of water wheels to power forge bellows, trip hammers, paper mills, and all the other accoutrements of the early industrial age?

Atlant17:45, 18 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Yes, too narrow[edit]

I live in a converted water-powered mill over 100 years old. Although their is extensive evidence of the existence of an enclosed waterwheel and associated flume and races, there is no evidence that grain was ever milled here.

The valley around me once boasted 15 mills in less than four miles of stream. At most, one of them (according to the documents and maps at my disposal) was a grist mill (flour mill). The rest were barking mills, spoke mills, and sawmills. All these were waterpowered and did not grind grain.

Somebody has incorrectly equated water-powered mills with grist mills, and has introduced the (possibly spurious) term "grinding mill" which is not used at all in the United States to refer to historic structures (although perhaps it is a modern mining term).

--Charlie Brooks, 2005-10-11

I agree. From my point of view in England there are a host of applications of watermill technology to power machinery. Few of these seem to be listed here. Peterkingiron 21:25, 19 April 2006 (UTC)

Additionally the reference to tidal (or tide) mill needs to be updated. There is a stub article on tide mills that should be referenced when the stub is large enough. In the meantime I have edited the "tidal mills" words to link to the stub

Fiddle Faddle 09:33, 6 April 2006 (UTC)

My interests are in the early New England water-powered mills. Although the overshot wheel technology was first used, there was a switch to turbines very early on. I don't want to just throw in something about turbines as a successor into an article that focuses on pre-industrial food production mills first and foremost. So, should this article be broadened, or should I just leave it all out? Thanks, CSZero (talk) 04:38, 2 January 2008 (UTC)
Never mind that - I skimmed the article far too quickly it appears. I guess it is somewhat inconsistant about turbines as a later option and whether they apply or not, but they are at least mentioned in passing, if not in operation. CSZero (talk) 04:41, 2 January 2008 (UTC)

British .vs. American milling terminology[edit]

There's a possible Brit English / US English problem in relation to the first post in this section. "Grist Mill" is pretty much unknown as a term in the UK (except when reading about mills in America), where "water mill" generally means a water-powered mill for the production of various types of ground cereal products. For other uses we would use "water-powered (X) mill", where (X) could be replaced by the words cotton, fulling, saw, oil, or whatever (with "water-powered forge" for that particular case). I don't see an easy way round it but thought it worth flagging up. Ghughesarch 02:59, 15 April 2007 (UTC)

I do not think 'grist mill' is incomprehensible to the English, though the term corn mill is more usual, or in the context of this article water corn mill. At one stage this article was excessively focused on corn, but that defect has been to some extent redressed. There is no need to refer to 'water fulling mills', because a fulling mill using any other artificial power source would be exceptional, similiarly cotton etc. Peterkingiron 16:01, 15 April 2007 (UTC)
I really don't agree, especially about cotton mills. The vast majority of the latter, in the UK, were never water powered, but driven by steam engines, and cotton today, wherever it is produced, is not made in water-powered mills except at preserved historic sites.
"Grist mill" may be comprehensible to English ears, but it is not the normal term, which as I mentioned in my earlier comment is "watermill" - without the qualifier "corn" (or "flour", "meal" or any one of several other possibilities). A "corn mill" without the power source being given, could be wind, animal, steam or electrically operated. It depends to some extent whether you are interested in the motive power, or the process being powered. Ghughesarch 18:30, 15 April 2007 (UTC)

In North America, the term corn is used only to refer to maize. The vast majority of Americans are completely unaware of the classical meaning of the word (a generic term for the most prevalent cereal crop available in a particular time or place). So, effectively, a British "corn mill" is an American "grist mill" but an American "corn mill" is a British "maize mill". --Charlie Brooks 2007-04-26

As Churchill said we are divided by a common language. I accept that ther is a problem over Amercan 'corn' being what I in England call 'sweetcorn' or maize. This is a problem that we have to live with, trying to make the article intelligible to readers on both sides of the Atlantic, and for that matter elsewhere. "Watermill" can refer to a water paper mill, a fulling mill or other kinds. The majority ground grain (of various kinds), but there were a wide cariety of other kinds. Peterkingiron 21:49, 27 April 2007 (UTC)

Spelling of leat[edit]

I believe the correct spelling should be leat. A quick search on Google was as follows:

  • Mill leat - 219,000 entries
  • Mill leet - 334 entries

Rellis1067 16:34, 10 September 2005 (UTC)

I'm not convinced that the spelling leet is ever used in this context, and suspect someone is having a joke based on leet. Unless anybody can come up with a citation for the use of leet for a mill race, I propose we remove it. Alf Boggis [[User_talk:Alf_Boggis|(talk)]]
I've checked on this before. Here, from Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (1952) , is the definition:
leet, n. A leat; a flume. [Obs.]
Obsolete, but real.
Atlant 11:04, 16 June 2006 (UTC)
I do not recall seeing the spelling 'leet' in this context. Peterkingiron 21:34, 17 June 2006 (UTC)
But I gave you a citation to exactly this meaning.
Atlant 23:01, 17 June 2006 (UTC)

Amendment to 'Operation'[edit]

I found that the article had been subject to certain (probably well-meaning) amendments that had left it incorrect. I have therefore undertaken a substantial alteration, in a way which will (I hope) discourage meddling by those who in fact know less than they think. However, I am uncertain whether I have got the right names for the various gear wheels in a typical corn mill. If I have inverted any, I hope some one else will correct my work (not revert it). Peterkingiron 23:43, 15 February 2007 (UTC)

Your additions are appreciated and well done. The gearing you describe is what Oliver Evans called the "Great Spur Gear Drive". The Evans system of mill automation revolutionized milling in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Earlier gearing was typically wooden cog-and-rung "one-step" or "counter gearing"; these systems have serious limitations of reliability and power output and were almost totally supplanted by the Great Spur, so that relatively few examples of anything else still exist. -- Charlie Brooks 2007-04-26

Some one has added something about the Han dynasty. I do not know wheter this is right, but have moved this away from the main account of European watermills, as the statement did not sit happily where it had been placed. If the statement is correct, it is likely that the mill was invented independently in China and Europe. However a citation is needed. Peterkingiron 23:43, 15 February 2007 (UTC)

Yes, the ancient Chinese did invent the water wheel as well, during either the usurpation of Wang Mang or the very early Eastern Han Dynasty, or perhaps even earlier that wasn't officially documented. Refer to Joseph Needham's Science and Civilization in China, or Michael and Mary Wood's Ancient Machines: From Wedges to Waterwheels. --PericlesofAthens 23:00, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

In that case please add your refeences to the article. To do this click the markup (below) including 'ref' and place your referecne in the middle, ideally with the page number(s). Peterkingiron 21:45, 18 April 2007 (UTC)

Moerou toukon[edit]

Moerou toukon (block log) has been permanently blocked as a sockpuppet of the Indian nationalist editor Freedom skies (block log · checkuser confirmed), who has a history of

The Arbitration Committee has found that Freedom skies has "repeatedly engaged in edit-warring" and placed him on revert parole. When examining Freedom skies' editing, be mindful of the following:

JFD 06:00, 5 May 2007 (UTC)

Request quote[edit]

In this diff, Moerou toukon added the following text:

Joseph Needham dated the early uses of water wheel can be dated to 4th century BC India. Joseph Needham noted in 1965 that certain ancient Indian texts from around 350 BC mentioned a cakkavattaka (turning wheel) and a further elaboration of a revolving machine.

No source is given for the attribution to Needham. JFD 14:28, 5 May 2007 (UTC)

RE:Request quote[edit]

Joseph Needham noted in 1965 that certain ancient Indian texts dating from around 350 BC mentioned a chakkacattaka (machine with wheel posts attached). On this basis he suggested that the machine in question was a noria and that it was the first water powered prime mover.

The No source is given for the attribution to Needham statement is incorrect; the footnote was given at the end of the paragraph. I will reinstate sourced material and point that any further personal attacks on the lines of the Indian nationalist editor will be met with request for administrative action; ditto for blanking sourced material.

Freedom skies| talk  16:46, 5 May 2007 (UTC)

Reynolds indeed cites Needham, p. 361. He quotes the word as cakkavaṭṭaka, rather than as in text. If there is a problem, it is with the interpretation of Needham's source, something on which he was somewhat equivocal. When dealing with literary sources from such a remote period, interpretation is often a problem. The meanings of words can change or be forgotten. Furthermore in dealing with novel concepts, novel words are needed. This is an area where certainty is not possible; that is to be regretted, but is unavoidable. Of course, if some one can provide any further external sources (internet or printed) that discuss the matter, it would be useful. Needham's work was publihsed 40 years ago and his primary expertise was on China, not India. Some of his views on other regions have been found (on further research), not to be quite right. Peterkingiron 18:44, 9 May 2007 (UTC)
I have not myslef checked the page in Needham, but (if Reynolds got the page wrong) it will not be far off. Needham's discussion of the Noria begins on about p. 356. Peterkingiron 18:50, 9 May 2007 (UTC)

Separate invention[edit]

Some one removed the suggestion that the horizontal waterwheel was invented in China, separately from the vertical one, which was invented either in India (if the cakkavaṭṭaka was indeed one) or around Asia Minor (where Philo came from). I made this commetn after a careful review of several of the discussions of the issue, particularly Lewis, who has been back to the Classical sources on the subject. I am not clear how authorative a work Woods is, as I have not seen it. If there is a disagreement, this should be dealt with by setting out the opposing views, not by competitive editing: I suspect that few of us editors are competent to judge between them. However care needs to be taken to ensure that the best sources are cited. A slightly older secondary source is often to be preferred to a more modern tertiary (or more derivative) source that has failed to consider that secondary one. I have on this occasion refrained from making substanial changes. Peterkingiron 18:44, 9 May 2007 (UTC)

It would help to have more references to the archaeological sources for mills. I know some recent work in London has shown what is probably a Roman tide mill, and there is much older work where many vertical mills have been found and excavated in Roman forts, such as those on Hadrian's Wall. The outstanding example of a vertical mill complex is at Barbegal, and recent French work at the site show it to be older than previously thought. The recent work at Dolaucothi suggests a crushing mill, and it is interesting to note that the Roman Carreg Pumsaint is very similar to the many stone anvils from the Medieval Stanneries, where crushing mills worked by a vertical wheel are likely. The problem with many of the academic discussions on the problem of who invented what and where is the lack of evidence on the ground, although this is now changing fast. Peterlewis (talk) 16:18, 9 April 2008 (UTC)


Mill dam should not redirect here but rather should lead to the Milldam page directly. Caid^9 17:11, 13 July 2007 (UTC)

link corrected. Peterkingiron 23:40, 4 August 2007 (UTC)

China v Greece[edit]

I do not want to engage in an edit war over which section should come first. The article implied that the Chinese made iron using waterpower from the 2nd century BC, when the article identifies the invention of water-powered bellows in a subsequent paragraph. The difficulty is that water-power was harnessed separately in two differnet regions at the end of the BC era. With the possible exception of the grain pounding (for dehusking) in China (surely a minor application), the Greek evidence is earlier than the Chinese, which is why it has eben placed first. Furthermore, this is the lineal ancestor of most industrial mills in the west, and so (I consider) more important. The terms "Greek Mill" and "Roman Mill" are unhelpful, particularly in view of Lewis' reinterpretaion of Philo's work. Another problem is that there is no scholarly consensus on the origin (outside China) of the horizontal-wheeled mill. It is possible that the answer to this dilemma is to provide separate sections on horizontally and vertically wheeled mills. I think there used to be a reference in the article to water-lifting devices, which may provide the origin of the vertical wheel, but some one removed it, because strictly it was not a mill. Comments please. Peterkingiron 22:50, 7 August 2007 (UTC)richie is the sexiest.

POV Edit[edit]

I have edited the section on Islamic mills to eliminate POV statements that they "invented" many machines. In fact many examples are known from the Roman world from much earlier, and the Islamic world was probably discovering Roman texts where such devices were already well discussed. Peterlewis (talk) 22:12, 22 March 2008 (UTC)


Anybody interested in a Wikiproject on mills? Proposal to form one is here. Mjroots (talk) 16:08, 9 April 2008 (UTC)


This edit points out that one of the wikibooks no longer appears relevant to this article, which is true, but the book does provide a link to wikibooks:A Researcher's Guide to Local History Terminology/Abecedary (ENORMOUS page) which I guess is what the original contributor meant. Do we now include a "see also" link to the abecedary? It does contain milling terms but it also contains many many other terms which are unlikely to be relevant to us here. Also, any local history article could point to the abecedary, but I don't suppose we want all of them to. I think we should leave it out. Please advise. --Northernhenge (talk) 13:24, 12 November 2008 (UTC)


I object to the deletion of this word. Before the steam engine, there was no other source of power sufficient to operate blast furnaces and finery forges. I know of one short-lived blast furnace "powered by the strength of men and horses" and one ironworks (an oddity that failed technologically) which had horse-operated forges. Certain early Swedish blast furnaces may have had treddle bellows. The text now reads "almost invariably", which should be good enough for an article at this level. More detailed ones might cover these issues. Peterkingiron (talk) 19:59, 2 October 2009 (UTC)

Wind-powered stamp mills exist, such as this one in France. Mjroots (talk) 20:05, 2 October 2009 (UTC) [copied from usertalk]
This objection is dealt with by making stamp mill, a separate item in the list: there were a number of unusual applications of wind power for applications were water-power was the norm, but the main object of the list is to show the diversity of applications, and occasional exceptions should not put us off. Peterkingiron (talk) 20:17, 2 October 2009 (UTC)

Curious Ancient Mesopotamian claim[edit]

The source, the only one in fact, which raises the possibility about the use of watermills in the Ancient Near East is from 1932 and is inherently conjectural. The full passage (Vowles, Hugh P. (1932), "Early Evolution of Power Engineering", Isis, University of Chicago Press, 17 (2): 412–420 [413], doi:10.1086/346662 ) runs

Irrigation machines are referred to in Babylonian inscriptions, but without details of their construction and operation. Nevertheless, in view of the very primitive nature of some of the water-rotated wheels still in use on the Euphrates, also in Syria, Persia, China, and elsewhere, it is not unreasonable to believe that water power had been harnessed for irrigation purposes even in Sumerian times. KING, in his History of Babylon, supports this view (2), and there is in the Cambridge Ancient History an interesting reference to a Sumerian month known as the ((Month for raising the Water Wheels,)) though we cannot be sure that these wheels were turned by the flow of the river. The earliest description of wheels of this type that I have been able to trace occurs in VITRUVIUS.

So, in fact, Vowles does not mention water-mills at all, just the possibility that water-wheels might have found use in Mesopotamia. I did not find a single author who took up the suggestion in all the sources listed in List of ancient watermills, including the most comprehensive work on ancient water-milling to date, Wikander, Örjan (2000), Handbook of Ancient Water Technology, Technology and Change in History, ISBN 90-04-11123-9. I thus remove Vowles' suggestion as completely outdated and superseded by modern scholarship. Gun Powder Ma (talk) 03:12, 15 December 2009 (UTC)

Operation of a watermill[edit]

Could somebody please expand this section? The connection between the millrace, millpond and mill in the medieval period is not clear at all - although if I'm not misreading it, I get the impression the late medieval watermills were powered by an undershot wheel at this time, which was less efficient. In particular, would somebody be able to explain how as a result of the water turning the wheel the other parts of the watermill worked to grind wheat etc. I'm lost as to how flour was created from water turning on a wheel. Diagrams etc might be useful, or at least some chronological structure of how grain was turned into flour. Thanks. (talk) 22:58, 8 March 2010 (UTC)

This is not the place for the information that you seek. This article is concerned with water-powered mills of all kinds. Please look at Gristmill, which discusses corn mills in more detail. Peterkingiron (talk) 21:29, 12 March 2010 (UTC)
This tour guide to Crabble Corn Mill seems quite clear. --Northernhenge (talk) 23:06, 29 March 2010 (UTC)
My point is that this article is about water mills of all kinds, not just corn mills, which are dealt with in another article. Peterkingiron (talk) 20:31, 30 March 2010 (UTC)
Agreed, but that's about corn mills of all kinds, not just watermills. I can see why someone might look here for details of how a watermill works, but probably water wheel would be a better place for such a description. For the power mechanism, it doesn't really matter whether it's milling corn, animal feed or gypsum. We could do with a mills portal. --Northernhenge (talk) 09:05, 31 March 2010 (UTC)
Perhaps we had better revive a separate page for corn mills (which is currently a redirect to gristmill), perhpas renamed to water corn mill (which is a term found in old English title deeds for them). Peterkingiron (talk) 14:33, 3 April 2010 (UTC)

Major revamp and clear-up[edit]

  • rm complete sections on the Ancient Near East as a mixture of WP:synthesis, outdated sources and overstatement of speculative material. In fact, there is now superb scholarship about the early development of the watermill which is very clear that the watermill and its main constituent parts, the waterwheel and the gearing mechanism, was not known before the Hellenistic period in the ancient world. I am ready to engage in any discussion on that particular subject, if questions arise, but please take first a look at waterwheel, Greco-Roman world, where I sketched the development.
  • rm link to "Muslim agricultural revolution", since the grist-mill, being the only agricultural mill, is the only obvious connection between these articles. However, since this type of mill was already in widespread use at the time of the Islamic conquest (see List of ancient watermills), there was no revolution in this field, rather evolution.
  • move all Roman material related to water-lifting devices in mining etc. to the waterwheel article
  • rm all Indian material related to the "noria", since a noria is a waterwheel for which there is a separate article (where the material is already included)
  • rm all 'Muslim' material related to the "noria", since a noria is a waterwheel for which there is a separate article (where the material is already included) Gun Powder Ma (talk) 13:20, 5 April 2010 (UTC)


It says in the lead "A watermill that generates electricity is usually called a hydroelectric plant" but in the Water mills today section it says "By the early 20th century, availability of cheap electrical energy made the water mill obsolete in developed countries" The two sentences aren't really compatible but I'm not sure which bit needs changing. Is it accurate to call a hydroelectric plant a watermill? I can't say that I've ever heard it described that way - it's usually called a water turbine. Also I've changed the title of the "Types of watermill" section as the mills listed in there aren't necessarily watermills - in fact most of them use other forms of power today. Richerman (talk) 01:24, 6 December 2010 (UTC)

The two sentences are unrelated, so thus don't contradict, although their wording could be clearer. The first implies one means of generation, the second is based on cheap electricity from steam power. Large scale hydroelectricity post-dates this, as it relies on some grid system to deliver power from hillsides to places of consumption (hydro plants before this were small, as that's all their local demand required).
The first sentence is very poor though: "Watermills" are a waterwheel coupled to a mill. They do milling, not power generation. Waterwheels alone might be used for geenration too, but that's neither what's written, nor the topic of this article.
There's also the technical aspect of the wheel / turbine distinction. Although someone undoubtedly has generated electricity from a waterwheel, it's not a good way to drive a generator, as generators need to be spun rapidly. Steam engines, already faster than waterwheels, were anyway too slow for this (which led to both Ferranti's large-diameter slow-speed generator and also the high-speed steam engine). This is one reason why hydroelectricity used turbines from the outset, rather than large slow-moving wheels. Andy Dingley (talk) 01:58, 6 December 2010 (UTC)
What I meant was that mentioning hydroelectricity in the lead and then saying later that cheap electricity rendered watermills obsolete is confusing as some electricity is generated by hydroelectric power. I don't think that the sentence belongs in the lead as it implies that all hydroelectric plants are watermills, so I've removed it. If, however, there was a section about small scale electricity generation then it would possibly be appropriate to say something about it in the lead. Richerman (talk) 17:25, 6 December 2010 (UTC)
I think that's a good deletion, as both waterwheels aren't useful for power generation, but mostly as it's an anachronism - There were no mills (or at least, no significant number of them) powered by hydroelectricity in that period. Andy Dingley (talk) 17:41, 6 December 2010 (UTC)

Misuse of sources[edit]

This article has been edited by a user who is known to have misused sources to unduly promote certain views (see WP:Jagged 85 cleanup). Examination of the sources used by this editor often reveals that the sources have been selectively interpreted or blatantly misrepresented, going beyond any reasonable interpretation of the authors' intent.

Diffs for each edit made by Jagged 85 are listed at Cleanup2. It may be easier to view the full history of the article.

A script has been used to generate the following summary. Each item is a diff showing the result of several consecutive edits to the article by Jagged 85, in chronological order.

Johnuniq (talk) 11:31, 3 May 2011 (UTC)

Illustrations (Misuse of images)[edit]

Can I remind everyone that each illustration (image) must illustrate (show) some fact in the text. This article is becoming a collection of nice pictures- and soon, the least relevant ones must go. Try to use the caption to explain what the image shows. --ClemRutter (talk) 17:33, 30 October 2012 (UTC)

Agree maybe improving the labelling would help, so for each picture the label says what aspect of it is important (mechanism, external architecture, position in stream etc.) Alternatively we could put most of the images in a gallery like they do at Milestone. --Northernhenge (talk) 23:11, 30 October 2012 (UTC)


There is a lot to say about watermills- but this article needs to be separated from Water wheel and above all the history needs to be pruned- most of it is displayed in other articles. So I have stated to be bold- it may take a few days.. -- Clem Rutter (talk) 22:44, 6 May 2014 (UTC)

Water wheel[edit]

I don't think Clem Rutter has been thorough enough, either that or somebody has undone the good work.

I am currently working on the water wheel article and work in progress is at Draft:water wheel. Both it and this article have errors, but often in different ways! Having said that there is also useful material here. In my view the section here on water wheels should only provide what is necessary for understanding this article and not duplicate anything more than is necessary from other pages. If nobody beats me to it I will take a look at the wheel aspects of this page when I have completed the work on the water wheel article. Malcolm Boura (talk) 20:18, 5 March 2017 (UTC)

Recent additions[edit]

It is some years since I looked into this topic. The recent addition relating to Egypt deals with norias and sakias, which were irrigation devices, possibly properly described as waterwheels, but they were not "mills"! Peterkingiron (talk) 15:43, 23 July 2017 (UTC)

Quite a lot of it seems to be a copy/paste from water wheel with others mixed in. Would support a reversion.--☾Loriendrew☽ (ring-ring) 19:30, 23 July 2017 (UTC)