Despite sparking strong interest among European modernists in the 1910s and 1920s, grain elevators have received little scholarly attention in such specialized fields as modern architecture, industrial archeology, agricultural history and urbanism. Building upon the pioneering work of Reyner Banham, William J. Brown has written the first history of the American grain elevator from 1843 to 1943. The world's single most important commodity, grain does not exist separately from the collection and storage units and the transportation systems that bring it from the farm to market. Invented in Buffalo, New York, in 1843, as a solution to a particular problem, the steam-powered grain elevator ended up being of such general utility that it led to the rapid growth of American agriculture and thus to the rise of the country as a whole. Over the course of this history, Brown tries to answer these fundamental questions: how can something as important as grain elevators be completely unknown to the majority of people who depend upon them for their daily bread? What is it about grain elevators that so fascinate the people who are 'in' on their secret?
The answers, Brown finds, lie in the nature of capitalism and the mysteries of childhood.