Charged by the Wind

Wind-powered battery chargers provided cheap energy before rural electricity

| June 2004

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    Instead of the familiar "wheel" seen on water-pumping windmills, wind-powered battery chargers featured propeller-like blades. The blades drove the generator more efficiently than the wheel design.
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    David Ballinger tweaks a 6-volt Wincharger Model 611, part of his Wincharger display at the 2003 Midwest Old Threshers Reunion, Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. "My dad had always wanted to find a Wincharger, so my brother and I found a 6-volt for him," says David. "At that point, the three of us had been collecting gas engines, but after we found the Wincharger for Dad, I go interested in theme."
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    Handsomely restored tail fins on Winchargers in David's collection. He scours tractor and engine swap meets in his hunt for Winchargers and parts. "There aren't that many of these things that have survived," David says.
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    A complete head from a 32-volt, 650-watt generator from David's collection. Wincharger got its start on a rural Iowa farm, but moved to Sioux City, Iowa, in 1935. Ultimately, Wincharger became the coutry's leading manufacturer of wind-powered battery chargers.
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    During World War II, Wincharger produced a wind machine used in paratrooper training. Note the Wincharger logo on the unit. Other wartime production by the company included development of the Dynamotor, for use in military aircraft and on ships. After the war, the Dynamotor became the basis for the two-bearing generator still used in pressure washers and other applications.
    Courtesy Edward Howard and www.Wincharger.com
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    This ad offered "A Wincharger for every income," including the top-of-the-line model that would power "a complete electrical system, lots of lights in buildings, refrigerator, radio, washing machine, iron, water pump, toaster, vacuum cleaner, separator, to make life easier for you."
    Courtesy www.Wincharger.com
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    "Free electricity made from the air," promised this Wincharger ad. Wincharger literature is difficult to find and expensive, David Ballinger says.
    Courtesy www.Wincharger.com

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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.”