The Great Windmill War

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

| April 2004

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.