A free-market energy blog
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Category — Long history, windpower

Early Wind Technology

[Editor Note: Wind energy is not a new technology as previous posts at MasterResource have discussed (listing at end below). This excerpt is from a longer article, "Changing Winds: The Evolving Wind Turbine," published in the April 2011 issue of POWER. Ms. Patel is the senior writer with the monthly magazine.]

“The use of wind power is as old as history.”

- Erich Zimmermann, World Resources and Industries (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951), p. 62.

From as early as 25–220 A.D., wind energy has been harnessed for practical purposes. The late nineteenth century began the era of large structures capturing wind to convert to electricity. This post describes early applications of this technology.

Blyth Turbine (1887)

The first wind turbine used to convert wind energy into power—unlike windmills, which are used to pump water or grind grain—was built by Professor James Blyth of Anderson’s College, Glasgow (now Strathclyde University) in 1887. Blyth’s experiments with three different turbine designs resulted in a 10-meter-high (33-foothigh), cloth-sailed wind turbine, which was installed in the garden of his holiday cottage at Marykirk in Kincardineshire. It is said to have operated for 25 years.

Blyth’s invention marked the dawn of wind turbine development. Close on its heels was a turbine built by American inventor Charles Brush in 1888. That 12-kW turbine featured 144 blades made of cedar, each with a rotating diameter of 17 meters (m) (Fig. 1). Then came the work of Danish scientist Poul la Cour in the 1890s, which spawned about 2,500 turbines in Denmark by 1900, with an estimated combined peak power capacity of 30 MW. La Cour’s wind turbines produced hydrogen as well as power.


Fig. 1. The Brush. American inventor Charles Brush in 1888 built one of the first wind power turbines. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Wind-powered turbines were installed by the millions around the world thereafter, particularly in the American Midwest, where between 1850 and 1900 they were used to power irrigation pumps.

By 1931 the first forerunner of the modern horizontal-axis wind generators was put into service at Yalta, in Russia. It was a 100-kW generator on a 30-meter-high tower that featured a load factor of 32%.

The First Modern Wind Turbine: 1941

In 1941, the world’s first grid-connected turbine (1.25-MW ) was built at Grandpa’s Knob in Castleton, Vt. [Read more →]

May 10, 2011   2 Comments

Wind Energy is Ancient (the infant industry argument for subsidies does not apply)

 The use of wind power is as old as history.”

- Erich Zimmermann, World Resources and Industries (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951), p. 62.

The day after the election, the New York Times cutely titled an editorial, “New Energy Outfoxes Old in California.” The Houston Chronicle dutifully reprinted it.

Problem is, what the Left sees as new energy is really ancient, and what is seen as old is really new. Coal, oil, and gas are several hundred years old; renewable energies are as old as human time. Solar and wind and falling water and burning plants–renewables all–are caveman energies.

This textbook from 1838 (is this old enough for you, New York Times?) explained the problem with wind, a problem that is at the center of the debate 172 years later.


Here are some quotations to show that wind is ancient, as energy historians have documented. [Read more →]

November 8, 2010   14 Comments

What’s New About Windpower? Erich Zimmermann in 1933

Excerpt from Erich Zimmermann, World Resources and Industries: A Functional Appraisal of the Availability of Agricultural and Industrial Resources (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1933), pp. 556–58.

“The Place of Wind in Modern Energy Economy”

Not only are new uses of water as a source of energy being studied, but the power of the wind is likewise being subjected to renewed scrutiny. Two recent proposals are mentioned here in order to indicate the trend of this development. The first is a German proposal which was reported in a wireless from Berlin, February 11, 1932, as follows:

Harnessing the air for generating electric power is advocated by Hermann Honnef, an engineer, whose perfected designs for that purpose are engrossing the attention of scientists and technicians and may revolutionize the German electric industry. Honnef claims to have solved the technical difficulties in a way to efficiently convert the force of the wind into electric power and to overcome the drawback of the inconstancy of air currents which hitherto has been a handicap to the utilization of this source.

His plan is to tap the winds at altitudes of 1,000 to 1,400 feet by means of great steel towers equipped with gigantic windwheels several hundred feet in diameter. Such an aeroelectric unit, requiring 6,000 tons of steel for its construction, would generate 20,000 kilowatts a day, and so economically that a rate of less than a quarter of a cent per kilowatt hour can be figured out, the inventor asserts.

In expounding his project at the Physics Institute of the Charlottenburg Polytechnic, before physicists, electrical engineers and technical representatives of the Reich government, Herr Honnef emphasized that water power suitable for developing electricity was confined to certain localities and that hydroelectric plants were costly, whereas the winds were everywhere available and therefore the logical source for electric power. Forty to fifty of his power towers could be built annually in Germany, he said, and the low rate at which power produced by them could be furnished to consumers would lead to hitherto unthought [line missing]. He urged the immediate construction of a wind tower, preferably in Berlin, to serve the twofold purpose of initiating the new process and affording means for further observation and experiment. A representative of the Reich Transport Ministry suggested beginning with a smaller tower to be built for testing purposes.

The second proposal is based on the application of the rotor principle of Anton Flettner, whose ill-fated rotor ship attracted wide attention some years ago. It was seriously discussed by Waldemar Kampffert, an authority on scientific subjects, under the headline “Harnessing of Wind in New Jersey Plant May Hold Importance for Industry.”

An excerpt from the lengthy article follows: [

September 22, 2010   3 Comments

Industrial Wind Power: An Old, Tried Failure (the intermittency curse then and now)

Best of MasterResource: 2009
This post orginally appeared (with comments)
on March 4th

The disadvantage of windpower as a primary energy source has been long recognized. This 1838 textbook described the competitive situation of wind as follows:


 William Stanley Jevons also detailed the problems of windpower in his 1865 classic, The Coal Question, [Read more →]

December 29, 2009   7 Comments

Windpower Is Not an Infant Industry!

“The use of wind power is as old as history.”

- Erich Zimmermann, World Resources and Industries (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951), p. 62.

“The Federal Power Commission became interested in the Grandpa’s Knob [windpower] experiment during World War II, and commissioned Percy H. Thomas, a senior engineer of the commission, to investigate the potential of wind power production for the entire country. Thomas’ survey, Electric Power from the Wind, was published in March 1945.”

- Wilson Clark, Energy for Survival: The Alternative to Extinction (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1974), p. 545.

Last week I posted on the long history of solar energy to make the point that this technology is not an infant industry. The fact that solar cannot compete against grid electricity (off grid is another matter) today is proof positive that there is an inherent disadvantage with the dilute, intermittent flow of sunlight in the thriving carbon-based energy era.

Windpower is another case of bad economics and bad quality. Wind is actually worse than solar because micro wind for off the grid is not a niche market. Ever seen a wind turbine in the middle of nowhere powering something? I haven’t. But I have seen solar panels in the middle of nowhere doing the work of electricity.

Old Stuff

My post, “Wind: Energy Past, Not Energy Future,” documented how 19th century economists unmasked wind as an inferior energy. Here is one example–see my post on W. S. Jevons (1865) for more.

The quotations below document how wind was a primary energy prior to the age of coal and how various developers have tried to commercialize wind without success. [Read more →]

October 13, 2009   10 Comments

Wind: Energy Past, not Energy Future (the intermittency curse then, as now)

The disadvantage of windpower as a primary energy source has been long recognized. This 1838 textbook described the competitive situation of wind as follows:


 William Stanley Jevons also detailed the problems of windpower [Read more →]

March 4, 2009   13 Comments

W. S. Jevons (1865) on Windpower (Memo to Obama, Part I)

The most important book ever written on energy economics was published in 1865 by William Stanley Jevons, The Coal Question (London: Macmillan and Company). This classic is out of print but available in its entirety on the Internet. It is well worth reading. The book marks the birth of an entire discipline, and Jevons’s remarkably sophisticated treatment of energy sustainability remains pertinent today. In a real sense, the Obama approach to energy was refuted by the insight of W. S. Jevons almost 150 years ago.

Jevons makes four points regarding windpower. [

January 28, 2009   14 Comments