Blahnik Family History 


 Brief History

 General History



History of Millcraft in Bohemia
by Ladislav Blahnik

Millcraft is without any doubt, one of the oldest and most important crafts in our country. In the oldest times serfs and feudal servants used stone hand mills for milling grain for castles and feudal houses.  Later cattle were used. to propel the mills. In a chronicle by the historian Hajak of Libocan, it is mentioned that in the first half of the 8th Century (around 718), the mills were improved and began to use water for energy. Windmills are mentioned in the 11th Century, and some can still be seen as historical monuments. In the l4th Century there is also mentioned so-called boat mills which were built on navigable and large-surface water areas. These can still be seen in Slovakia.

In oldest times when work in a mill was very difficult and tiresome, millers were known to possess above average strength. We can read that millers were courageous defenders of our homeland with their strength participated decisively in fighting against its enemies. In Beckovsky’s chronicle there is a story about a miller Jirim (George) of Doupov, founder of the millcraft coat of arms, who, for his contribution to the defeat of Hungry in 1116, was elevated to knighthood by Duke Ladislav.

Since very old times, milling was very much respected and mills as property belonged to feudal, church, and lay aristocrats, to monasteries, and later to cities and rich citizens (meaning people living in cities). Therefore, mills were not recorded in ordinary books, but in state records. The proprietors of these mills couldn’t do the milling themselves. They always had to hire a licensed miller. Mills were always free and millers were always freemen, not serfs, as we can see from the record from l4l5 saying the owner of the mill in Vazany was freeman Rohac who was head of Brothers Church (something like Moravian). In 1604 Baron Petr of Kathary is mentioned as the proprietor of the free mill of Bejsov. Also records from 1656 mention that farm fields in Rousinov belonged to free mill of Rousinov.

Water mills were known even before the birth of Christ, but in our country the beginning of water mills can be dated to the 8th Century. The 12th and 13th Century were the era of their highest expansion. For example, in 1100 a water mill was established in Klastere near Jizerou (explanation: Klastere was a monastery and the town was Klastere nad Jizerou to distinguish it from other towns with the same name, Klastere). Another mill was established in 1190 at a monastery at Loucken in Hobzu near Znojma. King Premyls Otakar allowed the building of many mills and the highest peak was reached between 1241-1341 because farmers were farming larger areas in grain and it was impossible to mill the grain using the household stone mills called "zernov."  One of the most enthusiastic sponsors of mill craft was King Karel (Charles) IV (called "father of the country"), who financed the building of ponds and. reservoirs and was conducting sophisticated regulation of some rivers. He established the Old Court of Country Mill men (a national court) which was unique in Europe for no other country and no other craft had it. Millcraft was reaching its highest peak of fame and was known as the "king’s craft." The old court of mill men had fixed rules according to which mills had to be run, and if there were disagreements, they had to follow the rules. These disagreements could be related to water rights, water levels, wheels, reservoirs, and channels so the other mills on the same stream would not be harmed. The verdict of the old court of mill men was final an had to be followed even by kings and feudals because there was no appeal against it. This court was trusted and was taken seriously not only at home but also abroad. For example, in 1548 King Ferdinand I requested experts from this court to help arbitrate disagreements between Hungary and Styrskem (a part of Austria). These two countries had disagreements related to water rights. This court was in operation for almost 500 years and was abolished by Emperor Joseph II.

Millcraft was becoming more perfected and. sophisticated and millwork was becoming more complicated. Therefore, those wishing to become master mill men had to be ‘vseumel" (someone who knows everything). In times of "cechu" (translator describes as "brotherhood of people employed in a certain craft"...probably guilds), the exam which everyone took who wanted to become a member of the association was very difficult, very severe, and also the project each candidate had to do was not easy. Either he had to build a water wheel, a thumb wheel, or shaft, to form and put in place the stones, or to repair or build a new bridge by his own hand. Only if this graduation project was accepted was the candidate accepted as a master. Millmen had to be familiar with all industries which were somehow related to water--paper mills, textile instruments, leather tanning, water treatment works. They also had to know about the systems by which water was brought to houses, castles, and gardens. They also learned about the pumping of water from basements and wells. They knew how to drive piles, and to build and repair wheels, reservoirs, and banks. These activities were only to be done by master mill men and fines and punishments were imposed if some other profession intervened in these activities. From this we can see that a master millman at that time had to be an engineer, builder, carpenter and other related professions in one person. No other professional was able to build an entire mill. A mill owner could not hire anyone except a master millman to run and manage his mill.

The hiring of master mill men had several conditions.  In the first type of arrangement a master millman was hired for a specified annual salary plus an additional bonus of goods. The other mill workers’ salaries would be paid by the mill owner who also paid all maintenance and repair costs The master millman was obliged to perform all difficult and skilled repairs to the mill and its equipment with the help of the mill workers. Under another type of arrangement, a master millman had a contract stating that he would get a portion of the profits and would contribute in the same proportion to the cost of maintenance. The contract also stated who was responsible for the salaries of the mill workers. The third type of arrangement was one in which the master millman rented a mill for "interest." The amount of the payments to be made to the mill owner were stated in the contract. Until 1655 the master millman of the free mill in Podolim had to pay his interest (2 zlatych and 15 gr.) on the days of St. George and St. Wenceslas. His payment also included two pigs, barley for the brewery, and all the grain the owner needed for his castle. The worth of all of this was estimated at 20 "zlatych" (gold coins). In 1750, the owner of the mill in Velesichich was getting 15 gold coins. In this case there was no mandatory labor (such as that performed by serfs) owed to the mill owner. These "interest" mill men could transfer their rights to their children with the approval of the owner. It often happened that several generations of a family would operate a single mill. The fourth kind of millman constituted a kind of aristocracy among the master mill men. This man owned his own mill. Mills were very expensive and few mill men owned their own, but we can find some recorded. For example, in 1542 Petr Maly from Mlyniste bought a free mill in Podolim v Pozoricich for 150 bags of money (misensky).

The mill men had an association which protected their rights. At first it was a brotherhood that took care of spiritual things such as burial, but in time they became professional associations concerned with material matters. In 1352 the disagreements and problems of mill men, bakers and their employees in Brno reached serious proportions. The Markrabe of Moravia (lower than king but higher than a duke) ordered. the city council of Brno to issue a mill law to settle these disagreements. According to records, the oldest mill law was issued in Olomouci, so the city council of Brno sent a delegation to Olomouci to gain some expertise regarding their law. That same year a mill law was passed which ended the disagreements. In 1404 King Vaclav IV gave the mayor and. city council of Prague permission to establish or build boat mills to travel the Vlatava River and. to bake rolls and, white bread so sufficient stockpiles were available to poor people.

The bakers and mill men were very close to each other. In articles from 1601 we can read that the country mill men who move to the city can become bakers. Other advantages conferred upon mill men by the kings and feudal rulers who fixed their rules included the freedom to buy grain and sell it to the bakers and to sell flour and bakery products to make a living if he had no mill. The associations were abolished in 1859 and thus began the decline of all crafts, mainly because the later associations did not have the great responsibility and power as those granted previously by the kings.

The mill men were not only famous for their strength but also for their knowledge. This is evidenced by the extent of their responsibility in the old court of country mill men from whose verdicts there was no appeal. This is of such great significance that it is hard to understand today. Their right to build all types of mills (paper mills, tanneries, and bridges) is very admirable at present and almost seems like a legend. Our old forefathers wanted their sons to have the best possible education. They did not hesitate to spend a lot of money for that. It is interesting to recall how many sons of our nation, since very old times, were born in Czech mills. These are names which will forever remain in Czech history and forever be our pride. For example; Daniel Adam Veleslavina (1546-1599) was the son of a millman and later the owner of many Prague mills. He became a professor at Prague University and. was so wise that his whole era was called, "Veleslavina Era." A very famous painter of Emperor Rudolf II was born in a mill at Krivoklatsky. Another famous man, called ‘the teacher of the nations,’ was Jan Amos Komensky who was born in a mill in Uherskeho Brod. (Editorial note; Comenius (1592-1670) as we know him, was an educator and bishop who wrote the first reading book in Europe to have illustrations. He encouraged broad, general education and the establishment of more schools and universities). A former millman from Prague who was one of the most famous music composers of the 18th Century, Joseph Myslivecek, became famous in Italy and later through-out all of Europe was known as "Il Divino Bohemo" which means ‘the divine Czech.’ He was one of Mozart’s teachers and had a great Influence upon him.

While a member of the old court of mill men, Vaclav Vesely, in 1731, published a book with 650 pages which covered the science of mathematics, geometry, & trigonometry, according to which people could measure heights, distances, depths, and weights, and could survey fields, forests, ponds, etc.

During the so-called "wakening period" of our country (l8th-l9th Century), the Czech nation was rekindled from national and language depression which was brought about by the disagreement between the Bohemian feudals and, the Emperor and the lost war at Bile Hory (White Mountain) near Prague in 1620. (Editorial note; refer to "The Judgement of God" publication which profiles the lives of the Chods or border guards in which the Blahnik name was a great participant. The Chods lost the war and were sold to the Austrian Lamminger). In this awakening period, the Czech mill men contributed significantly to the national realization of the people. Many famous men came from mill men circles. Catholic priest and poet Boleslav Jablonsky, poet Karel Hynek, lawyer Frantisek Ladislav Rieger who is referred to as ‘the father of our modern nation,’ writers and politicians, Frantisek Susil, Petr Fastr, Alols Pravoslav Trojan, Krel Krousky, and others.

In 1848 a Moravian Congress was called to abolish mandatory labor. One of the famous politicians was a millman from Rousinov, Dominik Spatenka. From our mills we can name many more men who became famous for the position they reached in the Establishment or as artists. The famous family of painters, Manes, was founded at the end of the 18th Century by master millman candidate, Frantisek Manes. Other famous artists were opera singer Antonin Vavra, actor Jan Vavra, writers Ignat Herman, Josef Svatopluk Macha, Jiri Sumin, Amalie Vrbova as well as Duke and Archbishop cardinal of Olomouc, Dr. Frantisek S. Bauer, and cardinal of Olomouc, Dr. Leopold Precan. The leader of the resistance during WWI and the Chairman of the Agriculture political party and later Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, Antonin Svehla, was also a millman. At the beginning of WWI, another millman, Josef Durich, went to Russia. He was the Chairman of the Brotherhood of Mill men. He was a Congressman and became the First Vice Premier of the government in exile. During WWI and WWII the mill men of Czech mills should get credit for nourishment of our people. Many mill men paid with their lives for this illegal activity during WWII.

Millcraft was always purely Czech. Even In 1736, Emperor Charles VI gave mill laws in Czech. Also the names of the equipment and parts were only in Czech. In other crafts the present names of parts, works, and name of professions are often of German origin. The mill working crew had typical Czech names like ‘Starek’ (senior), ‘Mladek’ (junior), ‘Samomlec’ (independent), ‘Prasek’ (the lowest profession in the mill usually a young boy), ‘Pytlikar’ (the one who puts the flour in the bags), 'Stupar’ (platform loader), ‘Pilar and Sekernik’ (carpenter), ‘Krajanek’ (the one who goes from mill to mill usually bringing news, etc.) (Editorial note; these explanations of the names are by the translator, not included in original text). The population used to call a millman, ‘pan otec’ which means 'mister father' and which is not used anymore but gives an idea of the honor and respect the millers had.

During the second half of the 19th Century there was a very significant change in our mills. There was a great advance in machinery and the old Czech mill changed with new and more advanced machines and more complicated methods of milling wheat.  The competition with the importation of Hungarian flour made this period very difficult for our mills and to keep up with progress forced Czech mill men to remodel. New energies were developed for running the mills. The conversion to steam, gasoline, and finally electrical energy was very expensive. After the mill men’s associations were abolished, anyone could become a millman by simply buying or renting a mill. In 1929 mill craft was again established as a profession, requiring a license.

At this time the Czechs had the most advanced milling profession in the world. Besides the small and middle-sized mills which used the traditional mill stone were modernized to use rolling mills and were motorized. Larger mills were like industries. This change can be revealed in the statistical comparison made in 1934. From the entire number of 9,220 mills in the Republic of Czechoslovakia there were 7,618 finishing mills (using rolling mills). From these rolling mills 120 were fully automated, 883 half-automated, and 6,615 manual. Gravity mills using stones numbered 1602. Revolutionary changes started after WWII when all mill industry was nationalized and concentrated in large industries. Some of the small and middle-sized mills were kept but were used only for the production of the grain feed for cattle. I remember those old pictures from our youth of bringing the grain to the mill and getting the flour back to satisfy the needs of the farm families or the pictures of the heavy mill wagons pulled by the strong Belgian horses with polished harnesses. These pictures are now only old memories. Former mill owners mostly became farmers but it was some kind of rule that small and middle mills have a farm on the side, but after WWII everything was nationalized.

A few explanations; "Salanda" was a big room in the mill where even in the last century the people who brought grain and waited for the flour were spending their time. It was like a social gathering of’ those who waited. Sometimes they even had to wait during the night and this might have been the origin of the Czech proverb; ‘Who comes earlier, mills earlier.’ In that room the father millman would provide refreshments for those who waited and they discussed local events, farming, and national politics.

In the 18th and 19th Century, when all the people could read and. write, it was the place where the first newspapers were read and the millman was the only subscriber in the entire region, besides the priest and the teacher. The millman and his crew were usually very out-going and knew a lot of jokes and the "Salanda" was a place of good Czech humor (which was immortalized by writer Karl Tumov in his book, Czech Mill ("Ceskych Mlynu"). Currently in literature the millman is shown to be a good, wise, patriotic, progressive person. Many writers and men who write chronicles were mill men.

"Krajanek" were candidates for master mill men who traveled from mill to mill to get their experience (for young men). They were very well liked in the mills because not only of their skill in occasional repairs but also because they brought news. Indirectly they should receive credit for bringing progress to mill craft and to agriculture. That was, of course, in a time when there was no communication. In that time when few could read and write, the ‘krajanek’ was very much welcomed, especially if he was a good storyteller and a merry person. He usually stayed on only for the time of the repair arid, when finished, he went on to another mill.  Some krajaneks came on a regular schedule and were impatiently awaited by the crew and the master millman. In the last 100 years we know the krajanek only in photos and literature. They are pictured with a stick in hand and a rolled blanket under his arm, a flat hat, and happily walking by a creek through the beechwood to the next mill. I wonder how they would feel if they could now come to life and, walk the same path from mill to mill today. For example if they would go to our mill, ‘Na Blahnikach’ and a little bit upstream they would witness the last phase of the revolutionary change which is the demolition of the mill which was sold by our forefather on April 27, 1696 to Jan Janusovi Deimbove for 1,100 pieces of gold. He might be able to imagine these 600+ years of his life with the slow changes from the stone gravity wood wheel through the rolling mill with the gasoline engine helping to generate electric current. This nostalgic imagination reminds me of the two ‘krajaneks’ who came to see this old mill in 1973 and its tragic end, all the way from the United States.

The above was contained in a letter which read: "Dear Joel; Thank you for your letter at the beginning of the year and also for your Christmas pictures of your parents Arthur and Viola of Green Bay. Also, please accept best regards from Blahnik families here. We are all looking forward to your next trip that it may come very soon and that Uncle Leon may also come. Today I am fulfilling my promise to you which I gave in Kutna Hora. A picture of an old mill which we have on a pillow on our sofa reminds me all the time. The pillow was made from the l974 calendar which you sent. At that time you expressed your interest in the history of mill craft in Bohemia. Therefore, I am sending you a short story. Possible it may be a good complement to the history of the family in which you are also so interested."

Ladislav Blahnik


Things Door County
May 15, 2014