How the Windmill Won the American West

May 11, 2018

Dempster Windmill in Nebraska
Credit Thomas Wilmer

The iconic windmill has been a part of western landscape since the mid 1800s.

Tanya Meadows at the American Wind and Power Center in Lubbock, Texas, and Jim Stark at the Kregel Windmill Factory Museum in Nebraska City, Nebraska share their passion for the iconic windmill that transformed the American West. 

It was the windmill that allowed settlers to farm and ranch large tracks of land. And it was also the windmill that allowed trains to travel across the empty plains and mountains.

A steam engine needed to refuel their water tanks every 20 or 30 miles, and it was the windmills that pumped the water from wells to the water towers at the depots and refueling spots.

Windmills on display at American Wind and Power Center in Lubbock, Texas
Credit Thomas Wilmer

The American Wind and Power Center, also known fondly as the Windmill Museum showcases more than 100 historic windmills.

There's also historic signage, ephemera, and photographic displays that showcase the vital role of the windmill. 

At one time more than 700 U.S. windmill manufacturers supplied ranchers, farmers and railroads. Today, just two windmill manufacturers remain in business.

The circa-1903 Kregel windmill factory remains intact exactly as it stood back in the mid-1930s.

Kregel Windmill Factory, Nebraska City
Credit Library of Congress

Kregel’s windmills were regarded by some as superior to the leader of the pack—the ubiquitous and almost bulletproof Aermotor—which is still manufactured today in San Angelo, Texas.

A handful of Kregel’s "Eli" windmills are still pumping water on farms and ranches around Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota.

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Underwriting support provided by Society of St. Vincent de Paul
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