The Alton Mill Logo


Historic Mixing Pot at the Alton Mill

April 01, 2014


Challenge accepted!

I am an engineering technologist, certified by the Ontario Association of Certified Technicians and Technologists, and specializing in mechanical design. I am also a history buff, and I find old technology to be cool

What is it? 

As noted on the sign, it is a mixing pot. The big wheel on the left-hand side is driven by a leather belt. Power is transmitted through the bevel gears, with approximately a four to one reduction, to the mixing blades in the container, as shown in the figure to the right. The shaft is obscured by the middle blade. The blades appear to be attached to a plate on the bottom. It all rotates in the counter-clockwise direction, towards the pointy edge of the blades.

It is not obvious to me how the pot is filled and then emptied.

The frame clearly indicates that it was made by the J.H.Day Company, of Cincinatti, Ohio. A Google search reveals that this company was started by John Howard Day in 1887. The company merged in 1992 with Littleford Brothers (1882) to become Littleford Day. They manufacture mixing, drying and reacting equipment for the processing and plastic industries.

Their website is The URL seems to indicate that it was more of an acquisition than a merger. 
How does it work?

A more useful question is why does it work that way?


Today, most stationary machinery is driven by electric motors. These, typically, have on/off switches, so that you can turn them off when you do not need them. Often, they have locking out devices so that there is no way for anyone to turn them on when you are inside working on them.

Old factories, like the Alton Mill, needed a power source. In the days before electricity, this meant they had to be located next to a source of flowing water, where some sort of hydraulic turbine could rotate a central drive shaft. Some factories had steam engines driving the shaft.

Ok, How? 

Before the general adoption of electricity, power was transmitted into the factory through the drive shaft and a series of leather belt drives. The obvious advantage of all this is that you do not have to invent electricity and electric motors.

When I went to college back in the seventies, one of the instructors told us that many of the the old machinists he worked with were missing fingers. Another problem is that you have to turn the machine off somehow.  

As of 2014/03/30, the machine is completely frozen up, either by rust, or by somebody welding it. What follows here is a fair bit of speculation.

What you see in the photo to the right is called a sliding dog. The bevel pinion gear is free to rotate around the drive shaft. It did not occur to me to check for a key-way, but the sliding dog almost certainly has one. It should be able to slide up and down the shaft, but it must rotate with the shaft. When the sliding dog is slid to the left, it engages the bevel pinion gear, and power is transmitted to the main bevel gear, and the mixing blades. Obviously, this only works reliably if the shaft is turning counter-clockwise with respect to the photo.  

In the position in the photograph, the bevel pinion gear is not engaged, and it does not rotate. The main bevel gear and the mixing blades to do not rotate either. You can (fairly) safely open the cover and stick your arm inside. Being locked up by rust and/or welding makes it even safer!

How old is it? 

I don't know.

It is a safe bet it was manufactured sometime from 1887 on.

It looks like it would still work if someone took care of it. At some point, it appears that they did not need a mixer anymore, or else, they did need a mixer, but they wanted one with an electric motor.

I know little about knitting mills. Would they need a mixer? A washing machine would move back and forth. This thing definitely rotates continuously, and would destroy any textiles thrown into it. The rubber company that moved in in 1935 probably needed a mixer. According to the website at, the mill was water powered until in closed in 1982.

By (John) Howard Gibson CET