Windmills — The Skyscrapers of Rural America

A hundred years ago an $80 investment in a windmill meant power to operate a water pump. It was a welcome relief for a farmer who otherwise faced this daily manual chore — and free for as long as the wind kept blowing.

A hundred years ago an $80 investment in a windmill meant power to operate a water pump. It was a welcome relief for a farmer who otherwise faced this daily manual chore — and free for as long as the wind kept blowing.

British archeologists have found remains of wind machines along the Iranian border, probably used to grind grain around the time of Christ. German people used windmills 1,000 years later, and Hollanders needed bigger ones to pump their country dry.

Daniel Hallady is the father of the American windmill that we know. A blacksmith in Ellington, CN, Hallady improved the wheel by adding blades to it. The vane was added to keep it facing into the wind, and a governor to keep it from turning too fast in high winds and destroying itself. That was in 1854.

At one time there were at least 131 companies making windmills in America. Batavia and Rockford, IL, were called the windmill capital of the world. Three of the original windmill manufacturers are still in business today: Aermotor of Conway, AR (1883); Dempster Industries of Beatrice, NE (1885); and Heller-Allen Co. of Napoleon, OH (1886). From 1880 to 1940 there were 6.5 million windmills sold in the United States. The end was marked by the Rural Electrification Act passed by Congress in 1935, paving the way for electric water pumps on farms.

You won’t find windmills anymore just anywhere. The Ozark region has a plentiful supply of springs and comparatively few livestock producing areas. By comparison, many farms in Northwest Missouri had two windmills.

Even though windmills look about the same as always, towers have changed. Towers can be either 3- or 4-legged; the 4-legged are most common. There are so few 3-legged towers around that at one time people thought they were antiques and more valuable. Not so. A good car game is to see who can spot the most 3-legged windmill towers as you drive along. It’s fun and time consuming.

If you are old enough and from farm stock, you can probably remember going to sleep to the gentle sounds of the spinning windmill blades, the creaking tower, the rhythm of the working pump rod and the gurgle of water running into a stock tank. If not, then perhaps you can treasure your time whenever you see a windmill silhoutted against the sunset in the Northwest Missouri sky. In either case, it leaves a memory never forgotten.

Reprinted from “Treasure the Times,” a tourism publication by Gallatin Publishing Co. 1988