The first successful windpump was built by the American Daniel Halladay, who owned a machine shop in New England. Halladay produced an ingenious self-regulating windmill with a fixed vane and four solid blades mounted on a main shaft. The rigid vane kept the wheel of blades facing the wind at an angle to produce the greatest amount of power. As wind velocities increased and the wheel spun faster, a centrifugal governor changed the pitch of the blades to present less of their surface to the wind, thus controlling their speed. When winds were high, or when the mill was turned off, the blades pivoted into a position parallel with the wind and the wheel stopped turning altogether. This ingenious feature protected the mill from damaging itself during harsh weather conditions. In September 1854, the first mill was tested and successfully pumped water out of an 8.5 m (28 ft.) deep well, raising it to a height of 30 m (98 ft.). Most pumps would operate in winds as low as 18 kph (11 mph), though the best models would start to work at wind speeds of 11 kph (6.7 mph).
Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, different companies were experimenting with mills to try to improve Halladay’s design. By 1872, the problems of wood scarcity and fragility were solved as new windmills began to be made of steel. From the early Halladay windmill, innovation continued into the twentieth century with the rise of the Aermotor and Dempster designs,
which are still in use today. Ultimately, the Aermotor Windmill Company was to become the largest windmill maker, basing its product design on steel rotors subjected to scientific testing and sold at very low prices because of great production efficiency.
In addition to pumping water, windmills were also widely used for generating small amounts of electricity to power lights, tools and appliances. Brothers Joe and Marcellus Jacobs from North Dakota pioneered this system. They designed a new set of blades that allowed their windmill-powered generator to turn at a speed capable of producing sufficient electricity. The brothers’ early generators were rated at one kW and were used to charge batteries that then supplied power to lights, radios, appliances and other items. The Jacobses advertised their invention with the line, “Wind! The Cheapest Power in the World is Easily Available to Every Farm Home.” An estimated 30,000 Jacobs wind turbines were sold—along with hundreds of thousands from other manufactures. These machines were everywhere from America to Canada, Africa, Asia, Europe, and even Antarctica.
By the 1930s, throughout the American West alone, there were an estimated six million farm windmills used for power and water pumping. They started to disappear in the 1930s, however, as electricity from the grid started to become an economic alternative and windmills were replaced with electric pumps.