What Australians and Americans affectionately refer to as a windmill, is in reality a windpump, as it does no job milling grain like the larger windmills of Europe.
Origins in the Middle East
The idea of harnessing the energy of wind power dates all the way back to as early as the 5th century in Persia, where horizontal windmills were used to mill grain and and sugar to reduce the amount of man hours required for the tasks.
By the 9th century, places in what is now Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan were using the power of wind to pump water from deep underground in wells. As word spread, the use of windpumps to generate water became widespread across the Middle East, and soon found its way into Asia and Europe.
While most windmills in Europe were used for milling grain, in some areas of Britain and in The Netherlands, windmills were actually used to pump water out of areas that were liable to flooding, so that towns and crops remained sustainable.
As European empires expanded across the world, they took with them these technologies they had adapted from the Middle East to assist them with water scarcity in other nations.
Migrants to the New World
As European migrants began to settle in The United States, South Africa and Australia, they found water to be more scarce in may of these areas than back home in Europe, and turned to windmills as their primary water harvesting technique.
In 1854, American Engineer and inventor, Daniel Halladay built the self regulating farm wind pump, with a design that most resembles the Windmills that we know today, which helped countless rural families with water scarcity, and also improved the design of the steam train.
The Australian Windmill
In 1876 the Griffiths Brothers constructed four windmills adapted from Halliday’s design, all of which were constructed from wood out of the Toowoomba Foundry. These “Griffith’s Mills” would go on to become the Southern Cross brand.
From 1890 to 1900 parts of the windmill were slowly changed to an all steel construction, before the all steel Eureka mill with wooden bearings was constructed in 1902.
And the rest, as they say, is history. The Australian rural landscape is now littered with these icons of human ingenuity and adaptability that dates back almost fifteen centuries, and the technology still serves a purpose today.