AUSTRALIAN WINDMILL MANUFACTURERS
The following alphabetic listing by manufacturer attempts to provide a starting point for the collation of the history of the many Australian windmill manufacturers, large and small which contributed so significantly to the Australian story.
Many North American windmill manufacturers such as 'STOVER', 'BAKER', 'FLINT & WALLING' and 'CHALLENGE' were distributed , but not manufactured here. Some, such as AERMOTOR, were manufactured here either under or without licence and some appear to have been copied under other names. Where the company and the model are known entries are included in the text.
Australian manufacturers did however do considerable research and several innovative designs were patented by locals. Several makers exported their product and 'SOUTHERN CROSS' actually started an overseas arm which became significant in it's own right and probably now is more involved in windmill production than its parent. Like all things, the quality varied but some of the designs and innovations were comparable with any windmill manufacturer in the world.
The early history of Australian windmill manufacture to a large extent parallels that of the North American experience. The original development dates were not far apart in the 1860 's and 1880's and the historical context was somewhat similar. The large European type windmills had been used successfully in the near urban areas with examples in such diverse centres as Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. However these were expensive constructions, more for milling purposes and not suited to providing water for the rapid agricultural expansion of both countries at the time. Cheaper less powerful and more portable pumps to supply water to stock, the far flung residences of the farmers and pastoralists, and the many emerging country towns were needed as the land was opening up.
Another factor of course was availability of the motive power the wind, and this along with population density was very influential in determining the location of many of the manufacturers. The majority of manufacturers appear to be in Victoria with the other states lagging behind at least as regards the actual number of manufacturers. Other factors were the supply lines for windmill construction materials which often were sourced in Britain in the early years and world events such as World War one which appears to have forced some like SOUTHERN CROSS to return to painted instead of galvanised towers for a while.
Large areas of both countries were still seen as pioneering country. This is the approximate time frame of the American Civil War and the battle of "The Little Big Horn" in the America before the creation of the USA.
It is also taking place well before Australian Federation, the Maori wars are still happening and NED KELLY is about to burst into infamy. Pastoral land is being opened up in many areas such as the Murchison of Western Australia amid hardship and conflict. The huge goldfields of Kalgoorlie and other centres are yet to be discovered and much of the Australian landmass was very lightly populated. Water is a rare commodity in many areas to the extent that some mining leases in more arid zones released the lessee from having to maintain occupation in the summer months because of the danger. Even so, on many early rushes men perished for lack of water.
Water was an absolute necessity, and even later in what are today wheatbelt areas it was a very limiting factor in the original opening up of many areas to occupation because the farmer and his motive power the horse team needed ground water themselves to work a crop.
In the first several decades of the twentieth century much land was still being developed. Examples of properties of 1,000 square kilometres and more, without a single permanent natural water point exist in some areas. The windmill became so familiar that it is now an icon of the Australian bush.
The expansion of the Australian railways into the arid areas, as in America was dependent on the provision of water for the steam locomotives and some large windmills from manufacturers like WEBB BROS. were used by various rail systems for this purpose.
The 100% tariff on imported windmills in 1935 was the death knell for American windmills coming into Australia, and indeed influenced some like John DANKS and later W. D. MOORE to make copies of the more popular models like the AERMOTOR. There were some imports for a period after this including the STAR ZEPHYR and the AERMOTOR. At the end of World War II both the U.S. firms of FAIRBANKS MORSE and ELGIN had representatives in Sydney, but ELGIN stopped windmill production c1947/8 and FAIRBANKS MORSE about 1950, so nothing came of it.
The decline in numbers of Australian windmill manufacturers also somewhat parallels the USA experience where, now, as here, only a handful still exist. Factors such as the competition of alternative pumping systems and the gradual arrival of scheme water systems affected demand for windmills. One of the biggest factors may be that they are just too effective. It is interesting to wander the countryside and view the many windmills still operating which are 50 years old or older and still going. Increased health and environmental standards acted to close down many of the foundries necessary for the old cast windmill parts and this opened the way for development of welded gearbox mills which existed from as far back as 1933 with FORTESCUE's ECONOMY windmill. Unfortunately this change took much of the character out of the product.
- All the source details on information used in this compilation are available.
- Your input is needed and would be very much appreciated to flesh out the story of Australian manufacturers and their products.
- Please note that much more detailed information is available if required.
- The imperial measurements of feet and inches are used throughout the text.
- Special mention must also be made of the contributions of the following people.