August 29: Wind Power for the Prairies

 

During the first half of the 19th century, as thousands of Americans journeyed westward in search of new fortunes, necessity became the mother of invention as would-be farmers were forced to adapt to new climates and topographies that were unlike anything they had ever seen before. Since the Great Plains generally lacked the forests and fast-moving streams found along the nation’s eastern seaboard, settlers became increasingly reliant on wind power to drive their granaries and pump their water wells. American inventors seized upon the trend, applying for dozens of windmill-related patents in the course of a single decade, from 1850 – 1859.

One innovative design stood out among the rest, however. On August 29, 1854, Daniel Halliday of Ellington, Connecticut received a patent for an adaptable “wind wheel” design that changed the direction of its sails when encountering different wind speeds without requiring any human oversight. This deceptively simple, self-adapting windmill revolutionized the fledgling wind-power industry in the United States: Before Halladay’s invention, windmills were routinely torn apart during periods of high winds and severe thunderstorms, which were much more common in the Midwest than in New England.

Soon after receiving his patent, Halladay founded the Halladay Wind Mill Company and moved his operations to nearby Coventry. Demand for his windmills was so high, however, that he soon sold his company at a handsome profit to the United States Wind Engine Company, which moved production westward to Illinois during the Civil War. “Halladay windmills” remained popular through the end of the century, with thousands being produced annually to grind grain and provide water for farms, towns, and even railroad companies.

Further Reading

Halladay’s Revolutionary Windmill,” connecticuthistory.org

Daniel Halladay, “U.S. Patent 11629: Wind Wheel,” Google Patents Database