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Abundant Wind Provides Water

Early Texas Panhandle people lived close to water sources such as the Canadian River and its tributaries. In order for the area to open up, a way had to be found that would bring water to the people rather than people going to the water. In the late 1890's the windmill became the answer. Water was found underground and the windmill could pump it to the surface. This lesson plan takes your students back in time when water was not taken for granted.

Lesson plan developed and written by Windsor Elementary, AISD Teacher, Tim Bryant
Introduction written by Millie Vanover, PPHM Research Assistant.


TEKS Alignment



The following information is from T. Lindsay Baker’s article Windmills of the Panhandle Plains, Panhandle-Plains Historical Review, 1980.

The first windmills began appearing on the Panhandle Plains between about 1885 and 1887. In 1860 an anonymous writer wrote in the Scientific American, “The great want of Texas is sufficient water…and…there is a million of dollars lying waiting here for the first man who will bring us…a windmill, strong, durable and controllable.”

Turbine-wheel type American windmills had their beginnings in New England at Ellington, Connecticut in 1854. What was needed was the means to control the speed of the turning blades so the mill would not self-destruct in high winds. A mechanic, Daniel Halladay, developed the first commercially successful self-governing windmill. A self-governing mill turned to face changing wind directions without an attendant and it controlled the speed of the wheel automatically to prevent its destruction. In 1867, using and improving this new technology, the “Eclipse” windmill was invented and became the most common windmill in the Texas Panhandle.

Windmills were not only important water sources for livestock, farming and pioneers, but water was necessary for the railroad to cross the Texas Panhandle. Early trains required steam to run their engines. Windmills pumped water into water tanks located along the tracks which provided the water for the needed steam. The trains enabled the population to grow quickly in the Panhandle. Canyon City (now Canyon, Texas) was one of the early towns.

Early windmills were wooden held together by mechanical parts made from steel and iron. The dominance of the wooden windmills began to diminish in the 1890s being replaced by the new steel windmills. Baker describes this transition in his article.

“The big change came in 1888 with the introduction of the “Aermoter” steel windmill, the first on the American market to have a scientifically designed wind wheel. Its steel wheel, in fact, produced about eighty-five per cent more useable power than the traditional wooden bladed wheel which had preceded it….By the turn of the century the Aermotor Company of Chicago had come into such a dominant position in the American windmill manufacturing industry that it produced more mills than all the other firms combined.”

The next big change in windmills came in 1912 with the introduction of self-oiling or oil-bath style mills. These windmills eliminated the need to have a regular weekly tower man climbing to oil the mills.

Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum has a research center containing thousands of primary and secondary documents. Oral histories are an important part of our heritage. High school student, Charley Mock, wrote this article in 1983 about his family windmill. Much of his information came from his family members who told stories about pioneering the Texas Panhandle.

TEKS Alignment
4.9A Describe ways people have adapted to and modified their environment in Texas, past and present.
4.9B Identify reasons why people have adapted to and modified their environment in Texas, past and present, such as the use of natural resources to meet basic needs.
4.9C Analyze the consequences of human modification of the environment in Texas, past and present.
4.14C Explainhow Texans meet some of their needs through the purchase of products from the United States and the rest of the world.
4.23A Use social studies terminology correctly.

Baker, T. Lindsay, Windmills of the Panhandle Plains, Panhandle-Plains Historical Review, 1980.
Mock, Charley, Windmills of the West, The Permian Historical Annual XXIII, 1983, pp 43-48.
Sources for word definitions:
Arid definition. (n.d.). Retrieved september 12, 2009, from Climate: http://www.meteorologyclimate.com/Arid-climate.htm
Playa lakes. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2009, from Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/wetlands/types/playa.html
Semi-arid. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2009, from Climate: http://www.meteorologyclimate.com/Semiarid-climate...
Student Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2009, from Merriam- WebsterWord Central: http://www.wordcentral.com/cgi-bin/student?book=St...
Student Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2009, from Merriam - Webster Word Central: http://www.wordcentral.com/cgi-bin/student?book=St...
Sources for photos:
Eclipse windmill, Courtesy of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum Research Center
Aermotor windmill, Courtesy of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum Research Center
Canyon City, Courtesy of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum Research Center
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