Tag Archives: Mills & Presses

Cidering is Fraught With Peril (Really)

Cidering can be dangerous, and not just because of the effects of alcohol. It has always involved large machines which are designed to shred and press flesh. That’s fine when it’s an apple being spindled and mutilated, but it can have painful, even fatal, consequences when it’s a person.

One such accident occurred outside of York, PA in 1800 and was later recorded by a local artist. According to Lewis Miller, David Miller (no relation, we assume) was busy grinding apples when his hand was caught between the stones. Lewis’s rendering of this incident is presented below.

October 13th 1800. David Miller loseing his hand in the Apple Mill dreadful Ground up. it was at George Spangler’s farm one quarter of a mile from York [PA]. he died on the 21nd day of October in his 23. year his brother Joseph Miller was present at the time and Stop, the horse to go forward. as Soon as he discovered his brothers hand in the mill. A young woman throw an apple at him, he turned round to See, who throw, and his hand caught….

Between the machines and the stinging bugs, cidering can be perilous.

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How Common Were 18th-Century Cider Mills?

While it seems pretty clear most American households in the eighteenth century had access to cider, it’s less clear how many had access to cider-making equipment.

One study of probate inventories (a listing of personal possessions taken at someone’s death) from mid-century Kent County, Delaware does quantify how many were around. [1] The author surveyed 121 probates and broke them down into three categories: those worth £50 or less, those worth £50 to £225, and those worth more than £225.

The chart below shows the percentage of various items within each bracket. Cider mills are second from the bottom and highlighted in red. By the way, you’ll notice that presses aren’t listed. For the moment, the assumption is that if a mill is present, so was a press.

What do these numbers look like in real presses? Well, 6% of 48 probates equals 3 and 30% of 24 comes out to about 7. Which means only ten of the 121 probates, or 8%, include a cider mill.

That so few are present speaks to the expense of cider-making equipment (which is why only wealthier households had them) and the fact that a few could serve an entire community.

It should be said that probate inventories are a wonderful source for researching household items, but they are far from complete.[2] They often leave out cheaper and commonplace items. However, it’s probably safe to assume that cider mills are always listed because they aren’t either of those things.

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1. John Bedell. “Archaeology and Probate Inventories in the Study of Eighteenth-Century Life.” in Journal of Interdisciplinary History, XXX1:2 (Autumn, 2000), 223-245.

2. Also not everyone’s possessions were probated, so some cider-making equipment might be lost to history.

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