Ouch! Bread Prices Are Skyrocketing!


There is a battle between the wheat farmers and the 3 Spokane flour mills grinding flour for baking bread..

Washington has always been a wheat growing capital of the world and the Spokane River fast current and falls makes grinding wheat a natural industry. 

The process is fascinating. The rush of the river drives a giant vertical water wheel that turns a massive horizontal stone. 

Wheat is fed through holes in the top of the stone as it turns, and the moving upper stone rotates against a fixed lower stone.  The result is pulverized flour that is constantly dropping from the stone edges.  It is collected and stored in barrels.  Making flour is a dusty, chocking process.  The number of barrels of flour per day produced in each mill indicates the size and prosperity of that mill.  

In 1890 wheat milling was one of the leading businesses in the Inland Empire.  Three Spokane mills were actively grinding flour and shipping it everywhere.   That year the wheat market was poor at 24 cents a bushel, and little flour was milled and shipped.    

In 1895 there was a giant wheat harvest and the farmers got 38 cents a bushel.

In 1896 C&C Mills closed down because of the high wheat cost of 46 cents a bushel.   So did the other two mills on the Spokane River.  Echo Mill they could not grind flour and still make a profit.  (20173)    Centennial Mills was offering 42 cents a bushel, but the farmers wanted 3 or 4 cents more.

The next spring in 1897 there was another bumper wheat crop.  The opening price in Walla Walla was a shockingly 74 cents a bushel.  Elsewhere during June the opening price was offered at 69 cents a bushel.   The mills claimed that price was way too high. Nobody bought.  So the farmers moved down to 67 cents.  With no sales still, the wheat price tumbled first to 57 cents and the following week to 55 cents a bushel.  It finally stabilized at an all time high of 60 cents.

That prosperity reflected in Barney O'Neil, the Latah banker, selling his 3,000 acres yielding 40 bushels per acre, as a bumper crop.  The astonishing price paid for his wheat was at the top, selling for 60 cents.   He cleared a fortune and pocketed a fortune of $50,000.

Next year in 1898 the price was lower to around 48 cents.  In 1899 the price plummeted to 43 cents a bushel.   The farmers were unhappy but the mills were ecstatic.

By 1901 the wheat price had returned to a high price and the Palouse farmers were very flush.   Wheat was king and the farmers were spending on everything.  Spokane Banks were freely lending to them.

When the price rose back to 50 cents a bushel in 1902, it was considered a very steep price for the mills.

In Pullman, farmer BF Westerdyke sold 14,000 bushels to the Pacific Coast Elevator Company.    The wheat was loaded into the Oregon & Navigation Railroad railroad cars and shipped to Portland.  The freight was 1.5 cents per bushel, netting Mr Westerdyke 48.5 cents.  He felt flush.

The wheat price advanced even higher in 1903.  The local bakers said their bread would cost 4 cents wholesale or 5 cents a loaf retail.     Wheat was now 55 cents a bushel, and the flour mills grudgingly paid the farmers their price.   The price of bread is closely tied to the price of wheat, but the mills kept buying all through 1903.  They never stop making flour to ship all over the world. 

For now the farmers have won....







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