An Overview of Some Historic Wind Turbines: Part 1

After the invention of electricity, in the late 19th century inventors turned their attention to generating electricity from the wind. Although windmills were there for a long period, they were mostly used for non-electric purposes.

In this post, we will review the historic development of wind turbines from the 19th century to the 1960s.

Blyth’s Wind Turbines

In 1887, a Scottish professor Blyth developed the first electricity-generated wind turbine. the turbine was inspired by the concept of windmill design and had four blades with cloth sails to control the overspeeding of the rotor. The turbine had to be pushed into the wind direction. Soon, it was realized that this turbine cannot withstand the strong winds of Scotland.

So, he developed a multi-blade wind turbine but was not satisfied with its performance. Eventually, in 1891, he developed a simple vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) that can be controlled at higher wind speeds. He deliberately chose the design so that the turbine became less efficient at higher wind speeds.

Blyth was also able to build the first VAWT that can be used to produce electricity.

Blyth Vertical Axis Wind Turbine in 1891

Charles Brush Dynamo Wind Turbine

Charles F.Brush developed the first electricity-generated wind turbine in North America in 1888. The 12 kW turbine had a 17.1 m rotor along with 140 wooden slats. The configuration of the wind turbine was adopted from the multi-bladed water-pumping windmills.

A pilot vane was used to turn the rotor out of the wind.

Charles F. Brush developed a wind turbine in North America for his Cleveland Ohio in 1888

Paul la Cour Wind Turbines

Paul la cour is considered to be the Edison of Danish wind energy. He began to conduct experiments with the wind to produce electricity around the 1890s and continued experimenting for several years.

In 1891, he installed the first electricity-generated wind turbine in Astov, he used jalousie shutters and dual tail fans to control the turbine.

Poul la Cour’s klapsejlsmølle. La Cour’s original 1891 electricity-generating wind turbine

In 1897, he developed a six-bladed wind turbine installed close to his new laboratory, the blades were wider at the tips and slender at the root, he thought this turbine would be much more effective than the four-bladed turbine, but to his surprise, he later found that his previous four bladed wind turbine performance was relatively good.

Askov’s conical wind catcher. In 1897

This surprise led him to build the world’s first wind tunnel for more experimentation. He realized that more frontal area of the blades does not translate into the superior performance of the wind turbine.

First AC Wind Turbine

The utility near Copenhagen installed an Agrico wind turbine in 1919, connected to AC network lines. This was the first wind turbine interconnected with the AC network. The turbine also used airfoil profiles in its blades for the first time however it used 6 blades in contrast to 4 blades of la pour wind turbine.

First Interconnected Wind Turbine. The Agriccoin 1919

To be compatible with Ac, they used an asynchronous generator that proved to be very beneficial.

Bilau’s Ventimotor

Kurt Bilau was one of the first who used airfoil profiles in the blades. He used airbrakes at the tip of blades for turbine Overspeed control and used both wooden poles and steel tubes for the turbine tower.

Bilau’s Ventimotor. Kurt Bilau’s Ventimotor was probably at a test field near Berlin in the summer of 1932

Smith Putnam Wind Turbine

The 1000 kW Smith Putnam wind turbine was installed on Grandpa’s Knob in Vermont. The 53.3 m turbine had two flapping blades with an unusual downwind configuration. It begin to deliver electricity to Vermont public service in 1941.

The 1000 kW Smith-Putnam wind turbine

In 1945, one of the turbine blades threw off and this failure end the service of the Putnam wind turbine.

F.L Smidth Aeromotor Wind turbine

The Smidth Aeromotor wind turbine had three blades with a rated power of 70 kW and 24 m dia in size, installed at the Skagen, a northern part of Jutland. The turbine was equipped with struts and stays.

Three-blade F. L. Smidth Aeromotor

Early Fastest Running Wind Turbine

Ulrich Hutters an aeronautical engineer, who is well known for his work for the developments of wind turbines in germany, had developed a 34 m two bladed downwind turbine in the 1950s with a whopping design tip speed ratio of 9.5. To withstand this rotor speed, Hutters introduced the idea of blades manufactured with fiber glass for the first time, and attached the fiber glass blades with hub through flanges in a novel way which later known became Hutter flanges.

StWG-34 at a test field in the Schwabian Alps

The turbine was connected to a grid in a test field near Swabian alps in 1956 and began testing in 1958. As a reserach turbine, it was mostly remained inactive and in 1961 one of its threw off the ground.

Rise of Danish Concept

It was the Johannes Juul, a former student of la pour, who introduced several innovations in his wind turbine designs that became the reason for the success of Danish concept wind turbines. He introduced the concept of stall regulated wind turbine blades that operates on constant speed and controls the rotor power at high wind speeds along with pitchable blades tips to control the rotor speed during gusts and storms.

To make a simple and rugged construction, he used struts ans stays for the long durability of rotors. He also reintroduced asynchronus genrators that proved to be significant success.

The 200 kW wind turbine at Gedser was the landmark achievement of Juul wind turbine success.

Gedser mill. The grandfather of the Danish design concept

Best Romani Wind Turbine

The 800 kW wind turbine was designed by a french self taught engineer Lucien Romani. The 30.2 m turbine had a fixed pitch rotor and a downwind configuration. The Turbine was supported with the tripod truss and tubular tower.

BEST-Romani. The 800 kW BEST wind turbine

The turbine testing began at 1957 and operated successfully from 1958 to until 1961. After this success, Romani opted for high speed rotor that was bigger in size and replaced the old blades. unfortunately, that didnot work and turbine failed within the few hours of opeation.

Isle of Man Wind Turbine

The isle of Man Wind turbine prototype was considered to be the most successful britain wind experiment after the post war. The 15.2 m turbine installed in 1959 west of South Barrule. The turbine had a upwind configuration with three fixed pitch blades.

The turbine blades had a constant width throughout. Air brakes were used at the tip for overspeed control.

Isle of man prototype.


For indepth history of each turbine listed above , please go through the following article.

Gipe P, Möllerström E. An overview of the history of wind turbine development: Part I—The early wind turbines until the 1960s

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