They're called "skyscrapers of the prairie," and we see them every day. But how many of us know their history and how they work?


Before elevators, those moving grains such as wheat, corn, rye, soybeans and milo stored and hauled them around in sacks, bins or, for smaller quantities, in bulk.


In the mid-19th century, the demand for ways to store large amounts of grain for shipping increased with the invention of the Cyrus McCormick Mechanical Reaper, which allowed farmers to mass produce their crops.


Joseph Dart invented the steam powered grain elevator in 1842 and Robert Dunbar constructed it in 1843 in Buffalo, NY. The increased grain traffic through the Erie Canal, which was completed in 1825, provided the impetus to store and ship grain more rapidly.


The 363-mile waterway connects the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean via the Hudson River through Upstate New York.


"Dart's elevator" was seven times faster than its predecessors. At first, most elevators were along waterway's for transport to and from ships and boats.


With the movement of railroads in the west, they built elevators along railroad tracks to enable trains to ship grain to faraway markets. Though today trucks also transport crops to buyers, almost every elevator in our region is located along a railroad.


Early grain elevators were constructed of wood, which made them prone to fire.


Most modern elevators consist of reinforced concrete or steel. Building this way is more expensive, but vast amounts of money and lives saved by fewer fires.


Furthermore concrete and steel are more impervious to rodents and insects.


Most grain elevators lift grain using a system of buckets on a continuous vertical belt.


After the load is weighed and the grain is tested for moisture and quality, trucks unload grain from their bottom into the "pit" where it flows into the buckets. The lower part of the structure is referred to as the "work floor."


After the grain reaches to top, or "headhouse," it is emptied into the silos via a series of ducts. Large elevators with many silos use a system of conveyor belts along with the ducts to direct the grain to the desired silo.


When trucks or rail cars pull up to the elevator to receive grain, the grain is off-loaded from the lower part of the silo into the truck bed or empty train car.


It is this step where grain elevators really demonstrate their efficiency as gravity does most of this work.


Many elevators are operated by cooperative exchanges - the farmers selling the wheat are the owners.


This makes the buying and selling of crops easier and more efficient.


The largest grain elevators in Kansas is one in Hutchinson and one in Wichita.