"An early example of automation was the flour mill designed
by the American inventor Oliver Evans (1755–1819) in 1782.
In Evans's mill, grain was transported to the second floor of
the building by an elevator, a series of buckets mounted on
an endless belt that ran inside a closed shaft. The grain was
then dumped into a hopper directly above the millstones that
ground the grain into flour, which was then deposited in the
mill's basement. From here, the flour was carried by another
elevator to a third-floor "hopper-boy," a device that
stirred the flour with long, toothed arms. Gravity then took
the flour to the boulter, a revolving cylinder that separated
the flour from the bran. Very little human intervention was
required during the mill's operation.
Oliver Evans' mill: continuous production line.
Although Evans had a patent on the automated mill, like many
patent holders he gained few financial rewards from it. The
complete mill or its major components were freely copied, often
by millwrights who simply followed the diagrams presented in
an illustrated book that Evans had authored, The Young Miller
and Millwright's Guide."
"Evans's mill was designed to do a single task in the
same way, over and over again. A more versatile apparatus was
the Jacquard loom and its predecessors. From the 18th century
onwards, looms of this sort were used to weave cloth in a variety
of patterns. Their significance lay in the fact that their operation
was automatic; the mechanical actions of the looms were guided
by punch cards. These cards introduced the idea of programming
into machine operation, and were later to be a key means of
data storage in early computer systems."
Facts On File, inc.