History of Windmills: Part 2


In the last post, we have gone through the history of windmills in the Islamic world. In this post, we will look into windmills’ history in Europe.

In the Islamic world, they were generally happy with the simple windmills that fulfilled their grinding grains and water pumping needs. Technological development did not much happen from the 1st to 9th century A.D

However, when the idea of the windmill entered Europe, their interest was to make windmills size bigger and used them in more than one way. Here, there was simultaneous development not only in France but in England, the Netherland, and many other parts of northern Europe.

European Windmills History

The first windmill in Europe was built around the 11th century A.D. These windmills were designed post windmills type. The development of post-windmills first began in England and France.

Post Windmills

The entire structure of these windmills rotates around a central post in order to face the wind. In the back of the windmill, a beam was used to rotate the whole structure with the aid of animal power or the miller itself.

Post Windmill
Post Windmill Back View

The technological development here was the use of metal parts that did not wear out often and roller bearings which cancel out the effect of vibrations and helps the moving parts last longer.

Limitations of Post Windmills

One of the main limitations of the post-windmills was their inability to change position independently to face the varying wind direction. This has to be done by people themselves. Also, There was a need for space within the windmills for people who were operating these windmills and overlooking the grinding corns. To overcome this, Tower and smock mills were introduced.

Tower Windmills

Tower windmills first appeared in England in the 12th century. They were built with a large vertical structure made from masonry stones or bricks along with an adjustable wooden rooftop that can rotate with the help of a tail structure, ensuring the windmill always face the changing wind direction.

Tower Windmill

The tower windmill design improvement overcame the shortcoming of post windmill such as

  • Only the top of the structure wooden rooftop can be rotated
  • People operating the windmills can be accommodated inside the tower of the windmill and can also house other necessary machinery
  • As the tower structure was rigid and high, this enabled large blades that can capture stronger winds at relatively higher heights.

The tower windmills were quite expensive to build and also became a symbol of wealth. Only the richest people and the government built these windmills. Some of these windmills were also built-in old towers of castles to decrease the cost.

Smock Windmills

As the tower windmills were quite expensive to build and could not be erected on wet surfaces so to overcome this limitation, the dutch introduced smock windmills in the 17th century.

Their lower half was made of a brick structure and another half of a wooden structure with a sloppy tower shape added structural strength to the design. These features made them lightweight and can be erected on unstable ground.

Smock Windmill

The small turbine in the back helps the main mill to be in the direction of the wind. The blades are twisted from root to top to become more aerodynamically efficient.

Smock Windmill design became quite popular and adopted all over Europe. The Netherland had so many of them because they were perfect for pumping and water redistribution.

Dutch Innovation in Windmills

The dutch made many design improvements. They supported the sails with a wooden bar and placed them away from the leading edge to improve aerodynamic efficiency.

They also used metal sheets instead of sails and introduced the concept of speed control with shutters and flaps during rough weather.

So the European windmills were quite advanced than the Islamic world saw, this was possible with the advent of the industrial revolution.

During the peak of windmills’ popularity, Europe was home to more than 200 thousand windmills. Two countries that were home to most windmills were Netherland and England. the Netherland had so many of them that, they gave a significant land mass area for a windmills-based industry that thrived for many centuries.

A decline in Windmills Popularity

With the arrival of the steam engine and internal combustion engine, the popularity of windmills significantly declined as new electric machines were introduced that can efficiently pump water and grinds grain than windmills. However, their prestige comes back in the form of modern wind turbines that now provides clean energy to the world.

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