Up until the 1760's when James Watt perfected the steam engine, water was the
only natural power source of the day. The American millwright of that period was
a master craftsman who completely designed and constructed mills. Water was directed over hand constructed wooden mill wheels to generate power. During that period, millwrights executed every type of engineering operation in the construction of these mills. They designed the patterns of the water wheel systems, carved their gear mechanisms, and then erected the heavy mill machines.
The traditional job of the millwright began to change by the latter part of the 1800's. The introduction of iron and steel in manufacturing machines created industries on a much larger scale. The millwright's role changed from planning and designing the machines to executing the plans produced by a designing engineer.
Millwrighting of the late 1900's is an occupation which demands precision and high skill. Today's millwright is concerned with the precision-fitting of machinery to tolerances of a thousandth of an inch. It is the millwright who installs and aligns heavy industrial machinery such as conveyor systems, moveable bridges, screw pumps, and turbines, and insures their efficient operation. They will even put into effect the vast and complex machines of the nuclear age.