The following information is from T. Lindsay Baker’s journal 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 the towers to oil the mills.
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum has a Research Center that has hundreds of primary sources in the form of interviews. There are two oral history interviews linked to this introduction. One is the memoir of T.C. Thompson who came to the Texas Panhandle in 1890 and well driller, J.P. Miles, who was interviewed in 1926 in Claude, Texas.
(9) Geography. The student understands the location and characteristics of places and regions of Texas.
(B) compare places and regions of Texas in terms of physical and human characteristics;
(10) Geography. The student understands the effects of the interaction between humans and the environment in Texas during the 19th and 20th centuries.
(A) identify ways in which Texans have adapted to and modified the environment and analyze the consequences of the modifications;
(20) Science, technology, and society. The student understands the impact of scientific discoveries and technological innovations on the political, economic, and social development of Texas.
- compare types and uses of technology, past and present;
(21) Social studies skills. The student applies critical-thinking skills to organize and use information acquired from a variety of sources including electronic technology.
(A) differentiate between, locate, and use primary and secondary sources such as computer software, databases, media and news services, biographies, interviews, and artifacts to acquire information about Texas;
(C) organize and interpret information from outlines, reports, databases, and visuals including graphs, charts, timelines, and maps.
Baker, T. Lindsay. "Windmills of the Panhandle Plains." Panhandle-Plains Historical Review (1980). Print.
J. P. Miles to J. Evetts Haley, interview at Claude, Texas, 21 August 1926, TS, Archives, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum
T. C. Thompson, “Memories of Life on the Plains since Mid-1890,” TS, n.d., unpaged, Archives, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum