History of Windmills

Workings of a Windmill

The history of windmills begins in Persia around AD 500-900.Windmills are machines that were first built to automate the task of grinding grain and for pumping water. The windmill works by the wind blowing across the sails (blades) which are fixed onto a shaft on top of the tower. The shaft runs down through the middle of the tower and as the blades rotate from the force of the wind the shaft spins. The shaft in turn, spins the large wheels and gears inside. The wheels and gears can turn things such as grinding stones, pumps or saws.

The Persians Have It

The earliest known windmill design was the vertical axis system believed to have originated from Persia around AD 500-900. The early windmills of Persia were apparently used for pumping water however no official recordings or drawings exist. The first known recorded design was also from Persia which had vertical sails (made from reeds) that were attached to the central vertical shaft. These windmills were believed to be used for grinding grain.

Crusaders Bring Windmills to Europe

The windmill was later introduced to Europe by the Crusaders returning from the war during the 12th century. The Crusaders were military expeditions made by the Christians of Europe during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries with the aim to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. Some of the oldest windmills in the world can be found in Afghanistan. However the Chinese believe that windmills were being used in their country for over 2,000 years, though the earliest record of Chinese windmills was first documented in A.D.1219.The first recorded windmill in Europe was built in Normandy (France) in 1180. The windmills unlike the Persian design were of horizontal-axis configuration.

The technology soon spread to southern England and Germany with the earliest known windmill in England being found in Weedley, Yorkshire and dates back to 1185. The windmills replaced animal power for grinding corn and wheat. In the 1390's the Dutch began refining the windmill design.

Southern Cross

In 1876 the Griffiths Bros. & Co were credited with making the first windmills in Australia at their Toowooba Factory. They based their design on a windmill imported from America. The windmills became known as the "Griffiths" Mills. In 1903 the Toowoomba factory sold its first commercial windmill under the trade name the "Southern Cross". The Southern Cross windmills were design by Bert Giffiths and it was simple, robust and relatively cheap. The windmills were 8ft high and made from galvanised steel. The Southern Cross became the best known and sold windmill in Australian history and is now an Australian icon. As steam power developed in the 18th century the need for wind operated mills declined. Today, wind power has gained popularity again due to the increasing use of wind turbines for electricy.Windmills are still the cheapest and most reliable pumping machine invented.

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