Windmill was source of water for years

Jerry Apps
Wind power is wonderful, as long as the wind blows.

For many years, on the home farm, a windmill pumped water for our small herd of dairy cattle, for the horses, hogs, chickens, and for the family. It was an all-metal Aermotor windmill.

Some earlier windmills were of wooden construction. In 1883, LaVerne Noyes, a Chicago manufacturer hired a mechanical engineer by the name of Thomas O. Perry, who was a mechanical and civil engineer. Perry experimented with 61 different “experimental wind wheels” before he settled on what became the Aermotor windmill.

The Aermotor windmill was introduced in 1888, and only 45 were sold that first year. In 1892, the company sold 20,000 windmills. Soon the Aermotor Company became a dominant supplier of windmills in the world. At one time the company’s manufacturing operations covered nine acres on the southwest side of Chicago. In 1915, the Aermotor company introduced an “auto-oiled” windmill, with an enclosed gearcase. All the moving parts were bathed in oil, and had to be serviced but once a year.

The Aermotor windmill had one serious problem, however. When the wind didn’t blow, there was no water. I remember one time in the late 1930s when central Wisconsin was suffering from a serve drought. As long as our livestock had water, and some feed we could get by.

But then one day the wind quit blowing and the windmill quit turning. Soon the stock tank for the livestock was empty, as was the water pail in the kitchen that provided water for the family.

We heard the cattle bellowing for water. Not a pleasant sound. All-day and all night they bellowed, as we waited for the wind to blow. A neighbor, who powered his water pump with a gasoline engine. came to the rescue. We hauled water from his farm, and not long after, dad bought a gasoline engine for our water pump.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Wind power is wonderful, as long as the wind blows.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to