flour barrel and sack

A unit of mass for flour, in the United States, 196 pounds (from 14 14-pound stones, a traditional English size); in Great Britain, the 20ᵗʰ century flour sack contained 140 pounds (10 14-pound stones).

The size of the actual wooden barrel was more or less standardised, but the density of flour varies, depending, for example, on the type of wheat that was milled. The barrel was large enough to accomodate 196 pounds of the least dense flour. For the barrel's dimensions, see source note 2 below.



Statement of Mr. A. P. Husband, Secretary, Millers' National Federation, Chicago, Ill.

The accustomed barrel of flour of 196 pounds is by tradition only; that is, there has never been Federal action on it. A number of States—in fact, practically all of the States—have by statute made 196 pounds the legal barrel of flour. It comes down to us as 14 English stone of 14 pounds each. That was originally an old English 196 pounds of flour, and we accepted that, and it has gone into commerce and has found a very important place.

A number of States—I should say first, that the packages commonly used in the family trade are, first, the 98 pounds, or half barrel; 49 pounds, or quarter barrel; 24½ pounds, or one-eighth barrel; 12¼; pounds, or one-sixteenth barrel, the larger sizes of half-barrel and quarter-barrel being more popular in the country and suburban districts, while the smaller sizes are more popular in the cities. There are smaller sizes, as 10 pounds, 7 pounds, 5 pounds, 3 pounds, etc. ; but I want to call your attention particularly to those fractions of a barrel around which has grown, we will say, abuses. Beginning with the 49-pound sack, which is the true quarter of a barrel of 196 pounds, a number of States have legislated that in selling flour in quarter-barrel sacks they shall be 48 pounds, and that instead of 24½ pounds, which is the eighth, which is the true division, that they shall have 24 pounds, and instead of 12¼ pounds a true one-sixteenth, that that shall be 12 pounds.

Now, the effect is that a man who goes to buy a barrel of flour buys 196 pounds. If he buys four quarters, in the States in which the statutes have been passed, he gets 192 pounds. And the situation is such that—take a near-by illustration. Mr. Hillard is a miller in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. In Pennsylvania the 12¼ and the 24½ and the 49 are the legal one-sixteenth, one-eighth and quarter packages. Virginia would be a natural market for Mr. Hillard's mill, but he could not ship those packages into Virginia, because Virginia says that a quarter barrel of flour when sold as quarter barrels must be 48 pounds, and an eighth 24 pounds, and one-sixteenth 12 pounds, while again the barrel is 196 pounds.

Now, there are quite a number of States that have passed legislation of that character. It might be well to save time if I might put into the record, if you please, a brief summary of the laws covering the weights of flour in the various States, and I will so submit.

The Chairman. Without objection, that may go into the record.


Alabama : 196, 98, 48, 24, and 12 pounds net.
Arkansas : True weight must appear on the package.
California : 196, 98, 49, and 24½ pounds net.
Connecticut : 196, pounds ; true weight of package.
Florida : 196, 98, 48, 24, and 12 pounds.
Georgia: 196, 98, 48, 24, 12, and 6 pounds.
Illinois : 196, 98, 49, 24½ pounds ; other weights allowable by agreement between buyer and seller.
Indiana : 196, 98, 49, and 24½ pounds.
Iowa : 196 pounds ; sack, 49 pounds ; flour can be sold in 98, 24, 10, 5, or other weights if not styled “sack.”
Kansas: 196, 98, 48, 24, and 12 pounds.
Kentucky: 196, 98, 48, 24, and 12 pounds.
Louisiana: 196, 98, 48, and 24 pounds.
Maine: 196, 98, 48, and 24 pounds.
Maryland: 196, 98, 48, and 24 pounds.
Massachusetts: 196 pounds; usual weights of quarters and eighths used.
Michigan : 196, 98, 49, 24½, and 12¼ pounds.
Minnesota : 98, 49, and 24½ pounds.
Mississippi : 196, 98, 48, and 24 pounds.
Missouri : 196. 98, 48, and 24 pounds.
Nebraska: 196, 98, 48. and 24 pounds.
New Hampshire: 196 pounds ; usual weights of quarters and eighths used.
New Jersey : 196, 98, 49, 24½ and 12¼ pounds.
New York : 196 and 98 pounds.
North Carolina : 196, 98, 48, and 24 pounds.
North Dakota : 196, 98, 48, and 24 pounds.
Ohio : 196 pounds ; true divisions of barrel used.
Oklahoma : 196, 98, 48, 24, and 12 pounds.
Oregon : 196 and 98 pounds.
Pennsylvania : 196 and 98 pounds ; true divisions of barrel used.
Rhode Island : 196 pounds.
South Carolina : 196 and 98 pounds.
South Dakota : 196 98, 48, 24, and 12 pounds.
Tennessee: 196, 96 (?), 48. and 24 pounds; special law for cornmeal.
Texas : 50, 25, and 12¼ pounds ; 200, 100, etc., decimal weights.
Vermont : 196 and 98 pounds.
Virginia : 196, 98, 48, 24, and 12 pounds.
Wisconsin : 196, 98, 49, 24½ and 12¼ pounds.

We have tried, during the three years that we have been working on this and similar measures—the first was introduced by Mr. Ashbrook, and the first hearings were held April 16, 1918. We have tried since that time to secure unanimous approval of this measure by all interests concerned. To do so we made concessions to our friends on the Pacific coast in the matter of exception to feed sacks, for feed only, of 60, 70, and 80 pounds, in order to permit the use of second-hand grain sacks for feed.

About the only exception that we have recently found, and that has been growing, Mr. Chairman, has been from the commercial mills who do a large domestic business with large commercial bakeries and also doing export business.

I might say that I have been in the milling business since 1890, both domestic and exporting, and it is the custom of millers that must, in order to run efficiently, to run to the end of a crews' hours—that is, if a crew is to work until 6 o'clock it is to the advantage of the miller to keep that mill going until that crew gets off, even though they have not orders on the books for the flour that requires that run. It has been the custom, and it is now, that when a miller has packed such flour as has been booked to pack, the surplus between that time and the end of the mill run into a package of 140 pounds. Some millers in their normal business pack as high as 50 or 60 per cent of the entire mill operations in that sack of 140 pounds. It gained its popularity here because it represented 10 stone, and is the usual package in Great Britain. There was exported last year—and I would say that perhaps 90 per cent of it was in 140-pound sacks—about 19,000,000 barrels of flour from the United States.

Now, the advantage of the miller packing his surplus flour in the 140-pound sacks is that that flour is available for domestic or for export business.

And we have found considerable opposition among the trade and it has been growing to the elimination of that 140-pound sack.…

As it is now, fourteen 140-pound sacks are equal to ten barrels, but that is a unit which has been in use for quite a long number of years and is a very useful one in handling flour in less than car lots.

Now, Mr. Chairman, another element, that element that has taken alarm at the possible elimination of the 140-pound sack, is our baker friends, who consume from 60 to 70 per cent of all the flour manufactured in the United States.

The commercial bakers, almost as a unit, buy flour in 140-pound sacks. … The 140-pound sack in the baking business is almost as universal in the United States as the dozen is the unit in buying eggs. Their formulas are all made on the basis of 140 pounds, so many 140's to so much yeast and water and lard, etc.

They have not opposed the bill, but they did, in a kind way, ask if we could not conserve to them the use of that 140-pound sack, because a number of them have invested in good quality 140-pound sacks, which they use and refill between the mills and their plants. A number of the large commercial bakeries thus save money in the cost of their bags, which has been very great lately, and by using careful handling of these bags they are able to make a saving of a considerable amount. Do you know what that amounts to, Mr. Hillard?

Mr. Hillard. About 11 cents per barrel.

Mr. Husband. About 11 cents per barrel, so that on a 300-barrel car that would be quite an item.

We are to-day shipping flour in 140-pound bags to Great Britain and other European countries, and to Scandanavia we are shipping 120-kilo bags, or 220 pounds. The millers dislike that bag, because it is a man-killing base. It is a terriffic bag to handle—220 pounds. [ed.-he refers to a 100-kilo bag.]

Ever since the milling industry has been developed on the Pacific coast, which has been within a generation, they have handled their grain differently than we do here in the East. Their grain is all handled in sacks. The mills furnish the sacks to the farmers or warehousemen, and it is transported in sacks.

They said that they could not get away from that way of handling it. We tried—our membership extends to the Pacific coast—and we tried our best to get those fellows to consent to the limit of feed to 100-pound sacks, but they pointed out this fact, that the sacks are made for the transportation of 100 pounds of grain and that they will not carry 100 pounds of feed, and that is the final use of those sacks. And, as Mr. Moore has explained to you, it amounts to about 11 cents per barrel, which is probably 7½ or 8 cents per sack.

Now, those fellows ultimately use those sacks for the transportation of feed and various kinds of feed. There are some kinds of feed of which you can only get 60 pounds into one of those grain sacks. There are other kinds of feed, such as middlings, where you can get 80 pounds, so that is the way this was brought about, and that is the arrangement which we made in order to bring them to the support of the bill.

Mr. Rose. What I think is so remarkable is, Why would you permit the 140-pound bag to be eliminated from the original bill and then ask us to amend that one feature?

Mr. Husband. Well, we thought that we could convince the trade that we should eliminate that 140-pound bag when this bill was originally written. As I made the statement before, I helped to draft the original bill, which came out from the Bureau of Standards, and it was with a full knowledge of the importance of the 140-pound sacks, and our attorneys, and Mr. Holbrook, of the Bureau of Standards, thought that the 140-pound bag was not consistent with this bill. Therefore, I, representing the organization, agreed to leave it out of the original bill in the hope of being able to convince our membership that it could be eliminated, and I am frank to say now that I have not been able the convince them that it should be eliminated.

The Chairman. That is, the barrel that is now being used in the shipment of flour—that is. the present barrel, as I understand, will hold 200 pounds of flour. Is that correct?

Mr. Husband. Yes, sir; and furthermore, for the information of the committee, the barrel as a package for the handling of flour is being very rapidly eliminated.


Statement of Mr. Moore

Mr. Moore. Mr. Chairman and gentlemen of the committee; I have very little to add to what Mr. Husband has put before you. I see that you have one member on your committee, Mr. Brinson, who is a North Carolinian, and can bear out the information I am about to give you ; and that is, that the abuse of 196 pounds basis of the barrel started to a very great degree in the Southeast. We began down there in the Southeast, and it has been carried on, and it has gone from one State to another until the great majority of the States use short weight, the great majority of the States that are located in the Southeast.

Mr. Brinson. What was the origin of that abuse?

Mr. Moore. There is no record, except in this, that the calculation was that the expense of doing the small-package business was greater than the expense of packing a barrel, and in order to maintain a uniform price that would follow by reducing the quantity of flour to the package. That is the only information I have ever had as to why the short-weight package was established, and the shortweight package of the South, I think, has grown largely out of that. And then, you take down South, where there was no regulation, the packages began to vary, and they began often to put up 10-pound packages, and those 10-pound packages were frequently sold for 12-pound packages. They wTere so close together that they could not very easily tell the difference, so they would sell the 10-pound packages, and the person buying them thought that they were getting the 12-pound packages. And the different States recognized these different weights. Little by little it developed that this was being abused, that this abuse was being used, and, in that same section, they were selling, even varying from the old standard of 96 pounds as the half barrel. I have heard of half barrels being sold that weighed as little as 88 pounds.


I do not know how you gentlemen are, but I know that there is another power much greater than any power I have that orders the things that we eat in our house. And I have observed a great many cases, especially in the cities, where the housewife does not examine the marking on the sack of flour. She orders a quarter of a barrel or a half of a barrel and she gets 24-pounds. It is not only the poor whites and Negroes, but it is people in New York City, or in New Haven, or in Washington, or in Boston, or in Wilkes-Barre, or any of our other metropolitan cities that are being robbed as well. Right straight through they are getting less than they think they are, less than they are paying for, when they are getting 24-pound bags and when they are getting 48-pound bags. They do not know it.

[Flour packages in use in the United States, 1920's]

196-pound, wood.
98-pound, wood.
140-pound, jute.
98-pound, jute.
98-pound, cotton.
96-pound, cotton.
49-pound, cotton.
48-pound, cotton.
24½-pound, cotton.
24-pound, cotton.
12¼-pound, cotton.
12-pound, cotton.
10-pound, cotton.
9.8-pound, cotton.
8-pound, cotton.
7-pound, cotton.
6-pound, cotton.
4.9-pound, cotton.
4-pound, cotton.
3½-pound, cotton.
3-pound, cotton.
2-pound, cotton.
49-pound, paper.
48-pound, paper.
24½-pound, paper.
24-pound, paper.
12¼-pound, paper.
12-pound, paper.
10-pound, paper.
8-pound, paper.
7-pound, paper.
6-pound, paper.
5-pound, paper.
4-pound, paper.
3½-pound, paper.
3-pound, paper.
2-pound, paper.

United States Congress. House.
Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures.
Weights and measures for flour-mill and corn-mill products.
Hearing, 6 May 1921.



Full barrel :
Length of staves, 28½ inches.
Diameter of heads, 17⅛ inches.

Half barrel:
Length of staves, 24 inches.
Diameter of heads, 14¼ inches.

The flour barrel is a legal standardized container and carries 196 pounds of flour. For domestic and interstate shipments six standard coiled elm hoops and two wire bilge hoops are used. For export shipments 12 coiled elm hoops with 2, and sometimes 4, wire hoops are used to provide for hazards and rough usage in transportation.

Experience has shown the difficulty of insuring the safe and sanitary delivery of flour, and especially when exposed to weather conditions and freight-car or warehouse contamination. There is ample evidence available in any large salvage warehouse of the enormous losses and waste incurred through the use of improper containers. For export flour barrels are lined with a paper liner as a double protection against odors in the holds of vessels.

Dept. of Commerce. Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce.
Domestic Commerce Series - No. 13
Packing for Domestic Shipment, Cooperage and Steel Barrels.
Recommendations of the Advisory Board of the United States Department of Commerce on Domestic Packing.
Washington: U.S.G.P.O., 1927. Page 5.

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