I don’t know what it is about windmills, but whenever I see one of the old classic designs out on the prairie, I just want to stop and take a picture.
There are a few windmill museums in the world and I’ve been lucky enough to visit one. So many windmills! Who knew there were so many different design variations? Another fun thing to do at the windmill museum… stand at the base of one of the new giant wind-farm turbines and see just how big they really are. It’s hard to tell from a distance how big they are. When you see pieces of them transported by semi, it gives you some idea but you just can’t beat standing there in person.
The American Windmill Museum
The American Windmill Museum in Lubbock, Texas is the largest in the world. The idea of it began in the mid-sixties when Billie Wolfe realized that the classic windmills were disappearing from the landscape and she became interested in preserving their history. She spent 30 years traveling around farms and ranches and in 1992 she was able to purchase the largest private collection of windmills. The next big task? Figure out how to move the Hundley Collection of 48 windmills, 171 weights, 56 pumps and models, from Nebraska to Lubbock.
Ms. Wolfe passed away in 1997 but her dream lives on. The city of Lubbock gave 28 acres for the museum and a 30,000 square foot gallery was built to showcase rare windmills. The building was large enough to display windmills as wide as 25 feet across.
By 2001 the museum owned the largest public collection of restored windmills. The collection continued to grow and a second building was opened in 2016.
We visited in July 2015, before the second building was opened. According to the website, it has more interactive displays, a 6,600 square foot model train and windmill layout, and a collection of miniature houses and model windmills. Clearly, this means that we will need to go back for another visit!
So you’ve seen them everywhere. But do you know what they do? Do you know why we have them?
Basically, a windmill is man’s way of harnessing wind power to do work. Historically, windmills (and wind power) have been used to grind grain and pump water. Before steam power and electricity, wind was the only source of power that people could harness and control. Now windmills are primarily used to generate electricity and to move water in remote locations.
The very first windmills were a horizontal design rather than the vertical design we are accustomed to seeing now. Check out this video of the 1,000 year old windmills still in use in a small village in Iran.
Windmills as we know them today first came into wider use in the 8th and 9th centuries, in middle east and Western Asia. Eventually the technology came to other countries and in Europe, windpump mills were most common in England and the Netherlands. European immigrants then brought their windmill knowledge to America. In the height of use, in the 1930s, we had over 600 thousand in the US.
The switch to electricity generation began in the 1900s and the first megawatt-class wind turbine was built in the United States in 1941. Wind power became more popular in the 1970s and in 2012 there were over 45 thousand active wind turbines in the world, with more coming online every day.
This video from National Geographic shows some of the original Dutch windmills that are still spinning in the Netherlands today. The government keeps them in working order as a backup to the modern water pumping mills they have now. Keeping the ocean at bay is an important job there!
Top 5 Wind Energy Countries
Generating electricity from wind is now the predominant use of a windmill, or rather, a wind turbine. As of December 2017, these are the 5 countries generating the most power.
- US (Texas has the most out of all 50 states)
Inside the Museum
Let’s take a look around the American Windmill Museum now…
Outside the Museum
Lots of windmills on display outside as well…
Enjoy this flyover of the museum grounds…
Read about The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind or watch the movie on Netflix. An inventive Malawian teen, William Kamkwamba, saves his town from famine by building a wind turbine. Here’s the trailer…
If you prefer a documentary-style film, check out William and the Windmill.
It can be viewed on Amazon, iTunes, or Google Play.
Just for fun…
Here’s Toad the Wet Sprocket playing their song, Windmills.
Celebrate Windmill Day every year on May 9!
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