Spinning across the skyline since the late 1100’s, windmills were critical for the milling grain in medieval Europe. Before the windmill, countless hours were fruitlessly in every home milling grain. Autonomous milling from wind power mitigated this hardship Windmills became a necessity in mountainous and swampy regions of Europe. Windmills were critical to agriculture in late medieval Europe and enabled the Industrial Revolution through creating idle time and technical aptitude.
During the early 12th century, before the invention of the windmill, large sections of Europe had to hand mill grain. This was an major issue since the most important asset to the peasants across Europe was time and this chore wasted significant portions of it. The majority of the serfs time was spent in agriculture activities: tending their own fields, tending the church’s fields, maintaining livestock, and milling grain. This labor intensive task required and hour for a scant two and a half cups of grain. This was far too little because grain based foods, such as oatmeal and bread, were the main course staples at nearly every meal. Far too much time was being spent on this task and too little grain would be produced to feed families efficiently. European peasants could not build a better future for their families and a better history for Europe because they never had enough time. The Europeans were forced to innovate in order to prosper.
Waterwheel mills were first used in the western world to mill grain. Using power generated from falling water simple gear systems were erected anywhere safe to build. In France and Germany denizens erected thousands of waterwheels only to be plagued by endless issues. Most waterwheels would be inoperable during the winter due to the freezing water. Floods often destroyed water in precarious positions. Small changes in the course of the river could render who fleets of waterwheel inoperable. Most waterwheels were forced dam streams to guarantee a controllable supply of water; the water from the standing lakes reeked of disease and swamped potential farmland. For many regions of Europe, waterwheels were not the solution.
Communities in the Iberian Peninsula, the Netherlands, and England could not reliably mill grain using water wheels. Each region was plagued by its unique geographical issues which suppressed the widespread production of water wheels. The Iberian Peninsula was far too mountainous for stable windmill production and mountain creeks were generally too weak to supply significant power. The Netherlands had surpluses of water; however, since the country is barely above sea level and peppered with swamps they did not have the speed to mill grain. English waterwheels were plagued by unlevel and mountainous land and a shortage of streams with enough power to mill grain. Additional innovations were needed.
It is speculated that the first European windmills were erected in England. During throughout the early and mid 1100’s innovators slowly progress from blades affixed to stripped trees to small to free-standing huts affixed with blades. By 1250 the post-mill was invented: the entire structure could rotate around a central post to face the wind. A mill boy would use a long tail pole to rotate the entire structure to the optimal position while the mill man would oversee the grain milling. As the windmill evolved more ambitious planners further improved the design. Technical windmills could automatically adjust to face the wind. Some designs were streamlined until a whole windmill could be erected within a day. Windmills became more unique as the art of building them evolved.
Each culture had its personnel preferences when it came to building windmills. Stationary tower windmills became popular with the Dutch and the Spanish due to their steady winds. The post-mill continued to be used throughout the majority of Europe and many European colonies, From British Bermuda to Spanish Mexico windmills have been erected. Windmills not only saved peasants lifetimes of labor, but also made a ascetic, culture impact.
Windmill’s outputs began the lifeblood of medieval Europe. Windmills became essential for food processing in Europe and became buildings of significance throughout Europe. Windmills were symbols of successful towns in Europe; rick monasteries and hamlets could have as many as three or four windmills. In less affluent communities the windmills were important assets; in some places the windmill would be as much as one-fourth of the estate’s total value. Mill men had stable and prosperous jobs with dependent profits and lots of free time to hone their technical abilities. Unfortunately, it is speculated that mill men were plagued by respiratory problems caused by the ever-present flour dust. Windmills were pillars of the medieval world, most were even given names.
By the eve of the industrial revolution there were as many as two hundred thousand windmills across Europe. Serfs everywhere were wholly dependent upon the windmill for their staple grain-based foods. A whole guild of laborers had even evolved up with the windmill; medieval Europe ran on wind power. The golden age of wind power only ended once it was displaced by steam power. The wisdom of the windmills still played an essential role after their decline. Many of the first steam engine technicians were windmill mill men whose knowledge of gears and mechanical physics proved invaluable. It is doubtful that without this technical ability and the time saved by the windmills that the Industrial Revolution would have happened as soon as it did. Innovation takes time and windmills provided just that.