History of Windmills

CULTURE | June 1, 2019

Persian Windmills. Source: (pinterest.com)

There have been different types and forms of windmills throughout history. The various types were created for different purposes. The very first person to use the windmill idea was Heron of Alexandria who created a device that would generate power for an organ.

Then it was the Persians who created windmills for grinding grain. Quite an unusual-looking windmill, this vertically-shaped windmill was first developed during the 500-900 A.D. timeframe. These were made with vertical mills in order to spin the shaft which was connected to a pump.  

Windmill. Source: (daysoftheyear.com)

It was during the Crusade era that the windmill first showed up in Europe but these looked considerably different than those made by the Persians so it is unclear where they actually originated from. A grain-grinding mill showed up in China in 1219 A.D.

The structure of the first windmills in Europe was made using a wooden post for support that would allow it to face the wind. This type of windmill was made with the use of a post-mill structure which required the use of a long beam in order to turn it. They were then set on a tripod made of two crossed beams and four angled beams to support the post. With cogs and gears, power was generated from the wind produced by the sails. Other windmills that were developed later were the smock mills, brick mills, and stone mills.  

Zaandam. Source: (en.wikipedia.org)

During the 1300s, windmills became more advanced by the Dutch who developed much more efficient sails. These sails were made of cloth with designs that made them more aerodynamic to be able to benefit from various wind conditions.

May 11 has been selected as Windmill Day. People celebrate this day by pondering the history of windmills and by just enjoying places that have them such as Zaanse Schans in Amsterdam. Zaanse Schans is an outdoor museum of historical buildings besides just windmills that were brought there during 1961 and 1974 to depict a Dutch town.  

Zaanse Schans. Source: (awesomeamsterdam.com)

This Zaan district was planned by the architect Jaap Schipper in 1946. Some of the buildings were transported there by water as well as by road. The culture of the industrial age of the Netherlands can be felt with the farms, the wooden houses, warehouses, and windmills. Year to year, more and more structures were either replicated or renovated to make this a place to visit and relive history.  

Windmill in Texas - 2010. Source: (en.wikipedia.org)

An even newer style of the windmill was introduced during the 1800s in the United States. It had a small rotor on top of a skeletal steel structure. In the beginning stages, it had wooden blades but later steel blades replaced those that were able to fold back in high winds thus avoiding becoming damaged. Most of these were used in areas where water pumps were needed to pump water for cattle or crops such as Texas.

Later, rotors were made to look like airplane propellers that were connected to generators that made it possible to have electricity in rural areas. This option did not last though when the main electricity grid began to include these rural areas and windmills became a thing of the past.

Will windmills come back as a form of electricity?

Tags: windmills

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