May 16, 2021

Alan Upton


When I was a boy something I liked was to stand on a beach or in a field and enjoy the sensation of the wind blowing on my face. I would stand facing whatever direction the wind came from and do “experiments.” I would throw things in the air and measure how far the wind would blow them before they fell to the ground. I remember a day in Texas, when I was eleven, my “test” object was a Nehi soda bottle cap. I estimated that from an elevation of twelve feet, the wind carried my bottle cap 534 feet. That is just over one-tenth of a mile.

A favorite card from my collection.        Alan U.

After I learned the word “anemology,” and its meaning, I don’t remember when that was, I told everyone that I was going to be an anemologist. The only person who knew what that meant was my dad. (My father was a meteorologist for the state agriculture department.) Reactions to my announcement were mixed, but I usually got some very strange looks and the most adventurous of my listeners would ask, “What’s that?”

My usual reply was, a person who studies the winds. I would continue with, “Do you know there are seven kinds of wind?” By the end of my explanation of the “Sirocco” (a wind that is common to north and west Africa) most people would change the subject and take pity on my parents for having a son like me.

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Aeolus was the Greek keeper of the wind and king of the island of Aeolia. Homer wrote about Aeolus and defined the word Aeolian. As civilization developed in the centuries after Homer, machines were invented that used the elements of weather. Wind, being one of the first recognized sources of energy inspired windmills.

Being my own self-designed anemologist, and later in life a deltiologist, it became a natural next step that I would collect postcards of windmills.

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Windmills have become landmarks in many countries of the world. They date back to ancient Babylon when a king named Hammurabi wanted to use the wind to blow water into field where the Babylonians had planted gardens. They failed, but centuries later, similar attempts were tried by the Greeks and Chinese. Equally unsuccessful.

The modern windmill first appeared at the end of the eighth century in the middle-east. An early example of a post-mill was built in Europe around the end of the eleventh century, and by the 1150s similar structures appeared in Holland and England.

Mills, as may be seen on postcards from my collection, were given different names. The post-mil was the most common, but other designs were named by the shape of the structure used to form or contain the mechanical apparatuses. The most common was the tower. Others were the smock mill and the windpump.

When the history of windmills became a popular concern, organizations and associations of windmill owners began compiling data on size, shape, design, capacity and age of mills worldwide. In Europe alone there were windmills in seventeen countries, also four countries in Asia, Australia, and Africa; and four countries in North and South America. In the United States, so claims one researcher of the 1930s, there were more than 600 thousand wind or pump mills.

Post mills, hollow post mills, tower mills, and smock mills all use sails to catch the wind. Generally there are nine different designs, jibs, spring sails, Dutch, roller reef, and Benton are the most common. On rare occasions, when fabric was unavailable, wooden paddles, often made from thin slats of kindling, were used as sails.

The six cards chosen to illustrate this article come from four different countries. England (#1), the Netherlands (#2 & #5), the United States (#3), and Canada (#4 & #6).

Horning Mill In England on the banks of the Bure
The Netherlands
Smock Mills at Leeuwarden, Netherlands
On the plains of Iowa, USA
Primitive post-mill in rural Quebec, Canada
A millkeeper and his wife in Molenzicht in Holland
At left, an ancient post mill with paddle sails. On the right a pump mill for Quebec City

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If anyone wonders, I never got to be an anemologist but I have never lost my love of the wind or my fascination with windmills.

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Association with water pumpers is the example in Golden Gate Park. This landmark finds 18 different images in my San Francisco collection. Informative story on what is available elsewhere.

Thanks for showing your beautiful cards. I’m interested in windmills and will have to see whether I have any. Had no idea there were that many kinds.

A quick Google tells me the seven winds are sirocco, Aeolian, gale, zephyr, squall, wuther, and haboob.

Loved the postcard and history of winds. I live in a desert community where there are lots of turbines, and many people refer to them as windmills, although they are not, but do look similar. They offer tours of the turbines, that include their history and difference from windmills. Thanks for sharing that!

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