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Make a Model of a Windmill

Read about windmills,
then make your own model of a windmill.


Michigan Farm with Windmill, State Archives photo
Michigan Farm with Windmill (State Archives Photo)

What is a windmill?


A windmill is a machine that uses the wind to turn a wheel of adjustable vanes, slats or sails. As the wheel turns, it turns a shaft, wheels, and gears that power machinery. The windmill on the Michigan farm in the photograph would have been used to pump water from beneath the ground at the end of the 19th century and during the early 20th century. It is more properly called a "wind pump," but most people call it a "windmill."


Windmills have been used for hundreds of years to power machinery used to grind grain such as wheat and corn. Today we also have windmills, called "wind turbines," that generate electricity.

What country is most famous for its use of windmills?


The Dutch people of Holland (the Netherlands) used windmills to grind many things: grain, lime, chalk, cocoa, and spices. They used the wind to operate paper mills and mills for treating cloth. The Dutch-who used dikes to keep their low lands from flooding-used windmills to pump water from the land into canals where it would be useful instead of destructive.

Where were windmills first built in the United States?


The first windmill in the U.S. may have been built at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1621. Dutch settlers built windmills in New York and along the Atlantic coast. French settlers in Detroit built both wind and water mills to grind grain into flour.


A Drawing of the Knaggs Windmill You can read a story written in 1884 about a windmill built on the Knaggs farm near Detroit in 1814. Detroit had a dozen or more windmills along the Detroit River in the early 19th century. You can also read about early Detroit windmills from a history written by Bela Hubbard in 1877. These windmills were no longer needed when steam power replaced wind power for running machinery.

How did windmills help settle the West?


Most American windmills were used for pumping water. Both cattle and steam railroads depended on water. Often there was no water for miles in the West, so cattle ranchers built windmills in different areas of their ranches. Railroad companies bought or built windmills to pump water needed by their steam locomotives. Some railroad windmills were huge-the wind wheel might be 30 feet wide!

Were windmills manufactured in Michigan?


Michigan farmers needed windmills to pump water for their homes and farm animals. Many Michigan companies built windmills during the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. "Maud S" and "Rork" windmills were built in Lansing. The Smith and Pomeroy Wind Mill Company of Kalamazoo built the Eureka windmill.


The Plymouth Iron Windmill Company (in Plymouth, MI) made an all-metal windmill invented by Clarence J. Hamilton. When the company stopped making windmills it continued to manufacture another of Hamilton's inventions: the Daisy air rifle (commonly known as a BB gun). There were many more windmill makers than we can name here-perhaps there was a windmill manufacturing company in your home town!

Where can I see windmills in Michigan today?


You can visit two windmills used for grinding grain: the De Zwaan windmill in Holland and the Cape Cod windmill at Greenfield Village in Dearborn. Greenfield Village also has a Stover windmill, used for pumping water. Look for windmills used to pump water (wind pumps) on farms as you travel through the Michigan countryside. Can you find signs, billboards or ads in the newspaper for businesses that use windmills in their name or advertising?

How can I make a model of a windmill?


The windmill model is of a type used to pump water on farms. (You must use Adobe Acrobat Reader download and print the page with the pattern.)


Print the pattern for the windmill. Then copy it onto heavier weight paper such as cover stock or tag board. If you use 9" x 12" tag board, you can make the pattern 10% bigger on a copy machine (set machine at 110%).


Paper Fastener Cut out the windmill base, wind wheel and tail vane pieces. You will need tape or glue and a paper fastener to finish your windmill. There are more directions on the page with the pattern.

Where can I learn more about windmills?


Some Books about Windmills and Selected Windmill Web Sites

  • Baker, T. Lindsay. A Field Guide to American Windmills. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985. (Large volume—the ultimate windmill resource.)

  • Dennis, Landt. Catch the Wind: A Book of Windmills and Windpower. NY: Four Winds Press, 1976.

  • Torrey, Volta. Wind Catchers: American Windmills of Yesterday and Tomorrow. Brattleboro, VT: The Stephen Greene Press, 1976.

  • Woelfle, Gretchen. The Wind at Work: An Activity Guide to Windmills. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1997.

  • The Franklin Institute: Wind Energy

  • From Windmills to Whirligigs, Science Museum of Minnesota

  • Mid-America Windmill Museum

  • The National Wind Technology Center

  • Vintage Windmills Online Magazine

  • Windmill World


Contact the Michigan Historical Museum.

Updated 09/10/2010

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