Grain Elevators are ubiquitous buildings, yet there is little popular understanding of them and their origins.
The basic arrangement of a grain elevator fits into two different "Type Families" based on whether it is a discrete building ("Self-Contained"), or a semi-dispersed cluster of structures (Annex).
Within those classifications, there are several distinctive types based on grain bin design and arrangment. Construction material and assembly then determine different subtypes or material variants.
An index to this and related typologies spells out the interrelationships concisely (without the clutter of images and descriptive text). Related and similar building and structure types are in a sibling websection.
These types are buildings with enclosed forms - not semi-dispersed structure complexes (i.e., the "Annex" grain elevator Type-Family, below). They were the first developed, in the 1840s, and their designs survived through World War II, after which construction the Annex design probably became far more numerous.
These three types have analogs in the Annex Type-Family Grain Elevator, but a Self-Enclosed Round-Bin grain elevator is a self-contained structure - different from an Annex-Type Round-Bin grain elevator (which is a cluster of interconnected, but semi-independent bins.)
Spaces between the bins are also used for grain storage. Where bins are adjacent, four-point "star bins" are formed in the intermediary space. Where bins are spaced slightly apart, "moon bins" are sometimes created by forming semicircular bins between (1956-57 American Miller and Processor Consolidated Catalogs).
Factory-cast curved panels or rings of cast iron sheeting are riveted together to create bins. A headhouse, usually rectangular, sits atop. The same panels may also be used to build boilers (for steam locomotives and steam engines).
The Washington Avenue elevator of the Grand Point Storage Company, Philadelphia, built by George H. Johnson, started in 1859 and completed in 1866. The method was slow to catch on for several reasons:
From Great Northern Grain Elevator webpage of the History of Buffalo's Grain Elevators website. No image found...
The Cast-iron Elevators appear to usually be encased in a masonry shell, and so often look like a Masonry Square-Bin Grain Elevator, such as what is perhaps the most famous one, the "Great Northern" in Buffalo, ilustrated above.
Another famous Elevator in Buffalo was the Plympton Elevator (no image found), which was probably "the first attempt to construct a fully fireproof, non-timber elevator in Buffalo...Erected in 1868, it was built of iron and steel components, including cylindrical metal bins, rather than with the rectangular bins of timber framed elevators. It also had an attached workhouse made of brick and iron. The high cost of construction, however, seems to have discouraged imitators of the Plympton, which went down in the early 1890s. Ironically, this was just at the dawn of a new age of metal elevator construction." Also, "Special interlocking bricks were used with no exterior walling with successful protection against the exterior climate." (From the 1890s to 1930s and Great Northern Grain Elevator webpages of the History of Buffalo's Grain Elevators website.
Factory-made curved panels of steel sheeting are bolted together to create bins. A headhouse, usually rectangular, sits awkwardly atop. The same panels may also be used to build tower silos.
When steel cylindrical bins were being introduced, there was concern about their collapsing like similar standpipe tanks (Banham 1986: 133t).
Curved clay tile blocks are fitted together to form bins. A headhouse, usually rectangular, sits awkwardly atop. The same blocks may also be used to build tower silos. (The bins in the second photo may actually be painted steel or cast concrete.)
The "Johnson System" of clay tile bins was patented in 1895 and demonstrated in 1899 (Banham 1986: 133b). Some or all clay tile systems included steel reinforcing (source?). Clay tile grain country elevators in northwestern Oklahoma (as summarized in a NRHP thematic nomination) were built in the 1910s-1920s, and were transitional from wooden to concrete elevators. They used 5 inch thick clay tiles with nominal measurments of 9 by 12 inches. The standard curvature of the tiles dictated a standard bin size; heights for the bins were about 30 feet while the elevator structures were usually about 50 feet (Curth & Otey 1982).
The last three are 1910s-20s elevators from northwestern Oklahoma, photographed for a National Register thematic nomination. (The middle one is flanked by concrete bins.)
Bins are built up from curved wall of cast concrete, usually using the "slip-form" technique. These tend to be almost frighteningly tall.
The headhouse is usually one of two forms:
The first image is the Peavey-Haglin Experimental Concrete Grain Elevator (or, rather, Grain Bin) in Minnesota. Built 1899-1900, it was the first circular concrete grain bin in the nation and possibly the world, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has its own web page and an NRHP entry at the Minnesota Historical Society web site.
Larger examples can be further classified by their dependance on conveyers in the headhouse and resulting linear expanse