Chapter 1
Historical Development of the Windmill


The wind turbine has had a singular history among prime movers. Its genesis is lost in antiquity, but its existence as a provider of useful mechanical power for the last thousand years has been authoritatively established. Although there are a few earlier mentions in the literature, these are generally not acceptable for recognition as historical fact by most professional historians of technology. The windmill, which once flourished along with the water wheel as one of the two prime movers based on the kinetic energy of natural sources, reached its apogee of utility in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Its use then began to decline, as prime movers based on thermal energy from the combustion of fuel took precedence. Steam engines, steam turbines, and oil and gas engines provided more powerful and more compact machines, adaptable to a multitude of uses other than just the grinding of grain and the pumping of water. These new heat engines also were continuously available rather than subject to the vagaries of nature, and they could be located at the job site rather than requiring that the job be brought to them.

  • Introduction
  • Ancient Times
  • The Vertical-Axis Persian Windmill
  • The Horizontal-Axis European Windmill
  • Windmill Technology Development
  • The American Windmill
  • From Windmills to Wind Turbines: 1888 to World War II
  • References

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