A windmill is a device for tapping the energy of the wind by means of sails mounted on a rotating shaft.
The sails are mounted at an angle or are given a slight twist so that the force of wind against them is divided into two components, one of which, in the plane of the sails, imparts rotation.
Most modern generations of windmills are more properly called wind turbines, or wind generators, and are primarily used to generate electric power. Modern windmills are designed to convert the energy of the wind into electricity.
Before introduction of steam engines and electricity, the only source of power that humankind had the ability to control was wind. Wind powered not only our sailing ships, but also hundreds of thousands of windmills that were and still are used all around the world.
Windmills have long and rich history in many countries all around the world.
A windwheel operating an organ is described as early as the 1st century AD by Hero of Alexandria, marking probably the first instance of a wind powering machine in history.
The horizontal or panemone windmill first appeared in Greater Iran during the 9th century, the vertical windmill in northwestern Europe in the 12th century.
In the 14th century windmills became popular in Europe – the total number of wind-powered mills is estimated to have been around 200,000 at the peak in 1850, which is modest compared to some 500,000 waterwheels.
Construction of mills spread to the Cape Colony in the 17th century. The early tower mills did not survive the gales of the Cape Peninsula, so in 1717 the Heeren XVII sent carpenters, masons, and materials to construct a durable mill.
The first windmill manufactured in the United States was designed by Daniel Halladay, who began inventing windmills in 1854 in his Connecticut machine shop. The windmill was hugely successful as a means of pumping water on farms and ranches in the expanding western frontier, so much so that Halladay moved his operation to Illinois.
Eventually, more than 1,000 small and large factories began operations to produce water-pumping windmills, with one company selling nearly 100,000 in one year at the peak of the market. Between 1850 and 1970, more than six million mechanical windmills were installed in the United States.
The first electricity-generating wind turbine was invented in 1888 in Cleveland, Ohio by Charles F. Brush. The turbine’s diameter was 17 meters (50 feet), it had 144 rotor blades made of cedar wood, and it generated about 12 kilowatts (kW) of power.
As the 21st century began, rising concerns over energy security, global warming, and eventual fossil fuel depletion led to an expansion of interest in all available forms of renewable energy. Worldwide, many thousands of wind turbines are now operating.
Windmills are the universal symbol of life, serenity, resilience, self-sufficiency, and perseverance in a harsh environment.
Regarded as an icon of Dutch culture, there are approximately 1,000 windmills in the Netherlands today.
The oldest Dutch mill is the tower-mill at Zeddam, Gelderland, built c.1450.
The windmills at Kinderdijk are a group of 19 monumental windmills in the Alblasserwaard polder, in the province of South Holland, Netherlands. The outstanding contribution made by the people of the Netherlands to the technology of handling water is admirably demonstrated by the installations in the Kinderdijk area. The windmills of Kinderdijk are one of the best known Dutch tourist sites and have been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997.
Many windpumps were built in The Broads of East Anglia in the United Kingdom for the draining of land. They have since been mostly replaced by electric power. Many of these windpumps still remain, mainly in a derelict state, but some have been restored.
The tallest working windmill in Europe is De Noordmolen at Schiedam, Netherlands, at 33.33 m (109 ft 4 in), although there are other disused Dutch windmills that are taller.
Miguel de Cervantes’ book Don Quixote de La Mancha, which helped cement the modern Spanish language and is regarded as one of the greatest works of fiction ever published, features an iconic scene in which Don Quixote attacks windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants. This gave international fame to La Mancha and its windmills, and is the origin of the phrase “tilting at windmills,” to describe an act of futility.