George Washington's venture into the whiskey business began at the urging of his farm manager, James Anderson. Anderson, who had been involved in the distilling industry in Scotland before immigrating to America in the early 1790s, was convinced that a distilling business would round out Mount Vernon's complement of economic ventures - and generate substantial profits. Ever the discriminating businessman, Washington proceeded cautiously but allowed Anderson to purchase two stills and set up a small operation in the cooperage next to the gristmill in early 1797. The result was the production of six hundred gallons, sold for a good profit. Encouraged, George Washington agreed to construct a large distillery over the winter of 1797-1798. The new distillery was 75 feet by 30 feet and contained 5 copper pot stills, a boiler, and all required equipment for large-scale whiskey production. In 1799, the year of Washington's death, the distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons, making it the largest whiskey distillery in America at the time.
Washington's merchant gristmill, erected in 1770-1771, was capable of producing 5,000 to 8,000 pounds of flour and cornmeal a day. Over a period of 29 years, Washington's wheat crops were turned into flour for overseas markets, and the corn ground at the gristmill was used to feed the slave population and paid staff, as well as the Washington family and their frequent guests. In the fall of 1791, Washington learned of the newly patented automated milling system invented by Oliver Evans. Evans received U.S. Patent #3 for his groundbreaking system, which moved wheat and flour throughout the mill without the need of manual labor. Washington purchased a license for the patent and had the milling system installed in his gristmill. Today, this milling system is faithfully interpreted, fully-functioning, and open to guests on a seasonal basis.