An American icon, windmills can be found dotting the countryside from shore to shore across our great land. Today, being more scenic than useful, they are a graceful reminder of simpler times. I have had a love affair with them most of my life and have enough photos to prove it.
It began when we were between farms and we were living in a house just outside Athens, Michigan. We didn’t have a barn or any other out-buildings but we had a windmill in the backyard. I made countless mud pies the summer we were there and the big base of the windmill was my “oven.” I was always in awe when the big silver blades would turn and gleam against the blue sky. I was 3 years old and I was hooked.
I have never been lucky enough since to have another windmill grace any of the places I have lived. Jim, bless his heart, knew my love for them and bought a 12-foot one a few years ago for the yard. I love it, but whenever we travel and we see the real deal we still have to stop to take pictures.
The first windmill was invented in 1854 by Daniel Halladay, a machinist in Connecticut. Its primary use was to pump water, thus it played an integral part in helping to settle the American West since the West was well-suited for raising livestock but its biggest problem was the lack of means to provide an adequate water supply.
Even though the earlier ones could turn automatically to face the changing wind direction and could control the speed of the wind wheel so they did not turn too fast and destroy themselves, they were constructed of wood and did not hold up well. Later, they were constructed of steel and were strong enough to pump water from depths of 1,200 feet.
By the 1930s, windmills were used to generate electricity on many farms. They were the forerunners of the modern wind turbines. Isn’t it funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same? With the depletion of fossil fuels and the safety concerns of nuclear energy, wind energy is becoming a prominent player in the renewable energy field. It just makes good sense; wind is free, it is clean and there is an abundant supply. It can be our friend instead of our foe, why not harness it?
Think about it. At some point in time, future generations will have to deal with the nuclear waste we are producing today. Japan's residents are still dealing with the 2011 tsunami and its cleanup. It can’t happen here in the Midwest because we are so far from the oceans. Wrong. What about tornadoes, straight line winds and the simple fact that a lot of our nuclear plants are just getting older and are in need of repair.
Oh yes, there are those who say that wind turbines are ugly, nothing charming like the windmill. True, nothing photogenic about the modern wind turbine, but still I would rather see them and know they are promoting green energy now and for my grandkids’ world. I don’t have to be scared to have my family live near them, and it’s not like they are in everyone’s back yard. Let them do their thing and when I want charm, I’ll head in search of the timeless windmill.