The Story of a Windmill

7 Oct


Icon of Wind Turbines

Image via Wikipedia


I’m starting a new chapter, on wind power, and have spent the past few days digging into newspaper archives (digital digging, that is) to learn about the history of windmills and wind power.  I came across a strange story published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, August 31, 1873, titled “The Story of a Windmill.”  I can’t quite tell whether it’s made up or not, or if it’s meant to be funny.  In any case, here it is:

“We went out to Slaymaker’s in June, to spend the summer, but we have been obliged to leave. Slaymaker had a small stream near his house, from which he used to pump water into the tank in hisgarrot.  It occured to him some time ago that it would be a good idea to put up a windmill which co do the pumping for him, so he built one at a cost of $200.  The first day it began to revolve it frightened Slaymaker’s best horse so that it ran against the fence and was killed, and the arms were so long that they nearly brained Slaymaker’s oldest boy, who was standing beneath watching the machine, when it suddenly stopped work, and refused to move an inch.  Slaymaker accordingly pumped the tank full, and just as he stopped the mill began to pump like fury. Slaymaker, in alarm, procured a rope and tied one of the wings to a tree. When the tank was empty he tried to make the windmill fill it again, but the concern was immovable. Then Slaymaker waited for a couple of weeks, and carried the water up to the house in buckets, because he was afraid to fill the tank, when the mil might get to work at any moment. Finally, as there seemed to be no hope of the machinery getting all right again, he did pump the tank full, and then went to bed. That night there was the first hurricane ever known in that neighborhood. The windmill made about found hundred revolutions a minute, and left the bed of the stream below it completely dry, while it poured nearly six hundred gallons an hour into Slaymaker’s garret. The boarders all swam out the windows, and spent the rest of the night in the barn, while Slaymaker took to a tree, from which, at daylight, he had a magnificent view of the falls as they poured picturesquely from the attic windows every minute or two brining out with them a chair or a hair trunk, or one of Slaymaker’s shirts, or a waistband. Mrs. Slaymaker will not clean house this summer, but Slaymaker has a windmill that he is anxious to sell. He will probably close it out cheap to a purchasers who wants to take it away right off.–Max Adeler.”


2 Responses to “The Story of a Windmill”

  1. Diaa Kristy October 7, 2010 at 12:04 pm #


    True or not, it sure does speak to the fact that good ideas are not always recognized when they first emerge.

    And one person, working alone, sure can give up in a hurry when unexpected obtacles present themselves.

    Especially if they are in anyway connected with a heartfelt tragedy.

    Good story. Thanks for sharing.

    • Ross Donald October 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm #


      “Max Adler” writes, within the great tradition of dry tall tale tellers, along with Mark Twain, and the others. I expected Paul Bunyan to stride in upon the scene. There were no doubt tanks in the attic pumped full by water pumping wind machines.

      The better story is the bounty placed on salt, earlier, by the Continental Congress to encourage the production of sea salt on the Eastern seaboard, at least, as far as I know, on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts – produced from wind mills pumping sea water into solar drying vats. The British navy was keeping the supply of salt from France and the Caribbean bottled up. This was not just an example of a renewable energy industry, but also the kind of incentive system that we’ve used in the past to meet national needs, something like the feed-in tariff, we need today.

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