Charged by the Wind

Wind-powered battery chargers provided cheap energy before rural electricity

| June 2004

Eighty years ago, isolation was the bittersweet hallmark of rural life.

No telephones. No television. No e-mail. No electricity.

When the vacuum tube radio became affordable in the early 1920s, farm families suddenly had access to daily news and market reports — until the wet-cell batteries died. If the family was affluent enough to own a gas-powered generator, they simply recharged the batteries. Otherwise, just as suddenly, the silence returned.

Enter the wind-powered battery charger

With necessity acting as the mother of invention, the Wincharger was born in 1927. Developed by brothers John and Gerhard Albers on their farm in Cherokee, Iowa, the first Wincharger wind-powered battery charger was used to recharge a 6-volt storage battery for a vacuum tube radio.

The new source of free energy was an almost overnight commercial success, embraced by cash-strapped farm families who couldn't afford a backup battery. Before the Wincharger, when the radio’s battery was drained, it had to be hauled to town and left for a few days at an auto repair shop to be recharged by a gas-powered generator. The Wincharger changed all that.

With the affordable, propeller-driven Wincharger, the battery could be continually charged, with power left over. It didn’t take long for the average farmer to see the potential. Coupled with extension cables and proper wiring, lights suddenly illuminated the chicken coop, barn, kitchen and parlor. And that was just the beginning.

“The more affluent farmer had 32-volt appliances in his house, like refrigerators and vacuums,” says David Ballinger, a Wincharger collector from Burlington, Iowa. “Those were mostly powered by gas-powered units — Delco generators, for instance — but he needed a supplemental source.”