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Water and Wind Early Rangeland Partners By Karl Wood, Director Water Resources Research Institute Windmills: used in many parts of world for centuries, especially Europe Don Quixote 17 th Century First mill in United States? Jamestown, Virginia 1621

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water and wind early rangeland partners

Water and WindEarly Rangeland Partners


Karl Wood, Director

Water Resources Research Institute

windmills used in many parts of world for centuries especially europe
Windmills: used in many parts of worldfor centuries, especially Europe

Don Quixote

17th Century

first mill in united states
First mill in United States?

Jamestown, Virginia


Hundreds of slow moving and cumbersome mills throughout the English, French, Danish, Swedish, German, Portuguese, and Spanish settlements

These European derivativeswere not suitable for the western U.S.

scientific american 1860
Scientific American1860:

“The great want of Texas is sufficient water…. There is a million dollars lying waiting for the first man who will bring us… a windmill, strong, durable and controllable.”

the grasslands of the arid and semi arid west were grazable
The grasslands of the arid and semi-arid West were grazable!

Grazing by domestic livestock and wildlife

was limited to areas near perennial streams due to a lack of drinking water.


A windmill was needed that would:

1. Automatically turn to face the wind

2. Govern it own speed to prevent its destruction

3. Require low maintenance

  • 4. Be portable compared to traditional windmills

5. Be transportable to rural areas

This won’t do!


Daniel Halladay, a mechanic, in Ellington, Connecticut

invented a machine that became known as

“the Halladay Standard”

Patented 1854

Blades could be turned parallel with the vane so that the wheel

ceased turning.


Demand for this type of mill was not great in New England

Makers moved to near Chicago in Batavia, Illinois in 1856

Railroads became important buyers as they expanded

across the West.


Reverend Leonard H. Wheeler, a missionary among the Ojibway Indians in Wisconsin made major modifications in 1866

  • A solid pattern that did not fold
  • in any direction
  • Speed controlled by changing
  • angle to wind
  • Became one of most common
  • mills until early 20th Century
  • Sizes varied from 8.5 to 30 ft
  • in diameter

Catered mostly to railroads


Many farmers and rancher chose to build their own mills

Although cheap (<$5), most were

made on affluent farms and ranches

Most made by the farm

or ranches’ resident blacksmiths with

spare time and a scrap pile


Both steel and wooden mills manufactured from 1870 to 1940

Steel mills were more

durable and self-oiling

Wooden mills were

easier to repair

with nails, wire, &



Windmill Designs

Many different designs,

especially the blades

Each manufacturer claimed

theirs to be the best!


Windmill Designs

A Scientific Approach

Thomas O. Perry (Engineer) conducted studies from 1882-83

for the U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company

Tested more than 50 designs in over 5,000 experiments

Developed a completely new wind wheel!

- 87% more efficient

than the wooden mills of the day


Windmill Designs

A Scientific Approach

1. Concave sheet steel blades set on a specific angle to the wind

2. Blades fastened to steel rimes and arms which presented the least

possible wind resistance

3. Retained sufficient strength

His company rejected the new design

because of retooling requirements!

In 1888 he joined LaVerne Noyes to organize a company called Aermotor


Further Improvements

1. A gear box allowing 3 revolutions per stroke of the pump

2. Gearing allowed rotation

with winds of 4 mph

  • Gearing gave the pump a long,
  • easy stroke instead of short, quick,
  • jerky strokes of other mills

4. 1890 - Galvanizing with zinc alloy became standard

5. 1915 – Included a housing needing oil only once a year



  • 48 mills
  • 2,288
  • 6,268
  • 20,049
  • 1892 60,000


  • 1888 77 companies
  • (Aermotor produced 50%)
  • 1919 31 companies
  • 1950 Aermotor claimed to have
  • manufactured over 800,000
  • 1970 Aermotor moved to South America
  • 1973 2 companies

Well Drilling

  • Approaches:
  • Hand-dug pits
  • Hand boring with an augers - 25-30 ft
  • Sledge hammers to pound a pipe
  • Percussion type or cable-tool rigs

Maintenance and Repair

Originally done by the owners

After several hundred thousand

sold in West, windmillers provided service

  • Windmillers:
  • Lubricated the mills
  • Repaired pumping cylinders
  • Repaired wind-damaged wheels and ironwork
  • Replaced bearings
  • Fished out and repaired broken sucker rods

Uses of Windmills




Drain Swamps


Lighthouses on

the Plains


Drain Mines


A windmill





The Tallest American


Claimed by the 132 ft high one on the XIT ranch at Littlefield, Texas (where its height was necessary due to being built within a canyon). It blew down in 1926, and the current "replica" in the town is a mere 114ft tall.


The magnificent and rare twin-wheel.

Built in Hutchison, Kansas, it has two 12' wheels on a single tower.


A Fine Specimen


New Mexico


The most photographed windmill

in southern New Mexico


Without this windmill, there would be no livestock

or wildlife on this part of the Gray Ranch, New Mexico

  • Electric pumps common – not perfect solution - storm damage

to transmission lines

- low voltages

- high utility rates

  • Gasoline engines – problems with frequent fueling and fuel costs
  • Windmills, parts, accessories, and repair are available on internet
  • Costs ~ $3,000 for a 6 ft diameter mill on a 21 ft tower to $15,000

for a 16 ft diameter mill on a 47 ft tower

  • Farmers, ranchers, and back-to-nature types still experiment with scrap metal and wood
  • Aermotor San Angelo, Texas
  • Dempster Industries, Inc. Beatrice, Nebraska
  • Muller Industries, Inc. Yankton, South Dakota
  • KMP Pump Company Earth, Texas
  • The American West Windmill Company in Amarillo, Texas imports from Argentina
  • Second Wind Windmill Service in Ft. Worth, Texas imports from Mexico
  • O’Brock Windmill Distributors in North Benton , Ohio imports from South Africa
final remarks
Final Remarks

Scribbled on the outhouse wall of a one-room school in Cherry County,


We like it in the sandhills,

We like it very good,

For the wind it pumps our water,

And the cows they chop our wood