The Great Windmill War

In the late 1800s, competition was fierce and windmill companies were waging war on each other

| April 2004

  • Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
    Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
  • Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
    Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
  • Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
    Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
  • Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
    Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
  • The U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co. gave away these trade cards at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philidelphia, where Daniel Halladay's folding-blade windmill design won a gold medal.
    The U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co. gave away these trade cards at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philidelphia, where Daniel Halladay's folding-blade windmill design won a gold medal.
  • In 1885, Aermotor Co. offered a tilting steel tower
    In 1885, Aermotor Co. offered a tilting steel tower "that even a child could operate," which facilitated oiling and repairs at ground level, rather than at 60 feet above the earth.
  • Montgomery Ward offered this $13 attachment, which converted a windmill's pumping action into continuous rotary power for grinding
    Montgomery Ward offered this $13 attachment, which converted a windmill's pumping action into continuous rotary power for grinding.
  • Plan for an 8-foot diameter homemade wooden windmill with a 4-inch stroke
    This plan for an 8-foot diameter homemade wooden windmill with a 4-inch stroke, appeared in an 1878 edition of The American Agriculturist. It called for hardwood arms about 3-1/2 feet long, with thin pine sails. The rear vane was constructed on a 2-by-4-inch stick, 7 feet long.
  • Montgomery Ward offered this $13 attachment, which converted a windmill's pumping action into continuous rotary power for churning
    Montgomery Ward offered this $13 attachment, which converted a windmill's pumping action into continuous rotary power for churning.

  • Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
  • Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
  • Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
  • Engraving of wooden-bladed windmills from U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co.'s 1885 catalog.
  • The U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co. gave away these trade cards at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philidelphia, where Daniel Halladay's folding-blade windmill design won a gold medal.
  • In 1885, Aermotor Co. offered a tilting steel tower
  • Montgomery Ward offered this $13 attachment, which converted a windmill's pumping action into continuous rotary power for grinding
  • Plan for an 8-foot diameter homemade wooden windmill with a 4-inch stroke
  • Montgomery Ward offered this $13 attachment, which converted a windmill's pumping action into continuous rotary power for churning

Don Quixote wasn't the only one who ever tilted at windmills.

In the wind-driven spring of 1892, Challenge Windmill & Feed Mill Co., of Batavia, Ill., squared off against its archrivals, the Aermotor Co. and the U.S. Wind Engine & Pump Co. of Kansas City, Mo.

At issue was Aermotor's flagrant claim, published in the April 1892 issue of Farm Tool Journal, that the Challenge-made windmill towers in the state of New York were blown down or severely damaged by a storm that swept through the region.

Challenge fought back with this scathing rebuttal addressed to the editors of Farm Implement News: "We wish to put on record our statement that out of the hundreds of our company's steel windmills and towers in the great state of New York, not a single one was injured and not one cent was paid out for repairs of any kind."

To press the point, executives at Challenge presented a half-dozen letters from farmers across the country, praising Challenge's Daisy, Dandy and O.H. windmills. "None of these brands had been damaged by the severe March storm," a company statement claimed.



Big business

The windmill business in the United States was extremely competitive in its heyday between 1890 and 1920. From a meager start just before the Civil War, the various windmill companies had grown to employ 600 workers by 1879, and sales had reached more than a million dollars a year.

By 1889, sales had doubled and within a decade wind engine sales doubled again. In 1919, nearly 2,000 employees were working in dozens of American windmill factories with total annual revenue reaching about $10,000,000.