A breakdance move during which the breaker, with legs spread wide, rolls in a circular fasion on his or her shoulders, upper back, and forearms. The momentum of this move often carries the breaker's lower body up into the air not unlike a gyroscope.

Zaandam is a town about 30 km from Amsterdam, which is renowned for the Zaansche Schans, a museum of traditional, active windmills. The windmills are impressive works of 18th century engineering with their tall bodies, rotating top, and complex mill gearing. Even though the mills look massive on the outside, there is actually very little unoccupied space on the inside: every inch is taken up by rotating gears and shafts to convert wind energy to work. As a result, it is a dangerous place as well.

Many years ago, you could still visit the mills to see their operation. A guide would show you around and explain the details of the heavy machinery in operation. Guiding a bunch of photo-happy tourists through a windmill is a typical job for a student trying to make an extra buck: a clean cut, a smile, and a tie easily double the tip earnings.

But one day things went terribly wrong. One of the guides showed around a group of Japanese tourists. They crammed around him in the small milling space to listen to the history of the mill, and watch him point out the workings of all the gears. The young student was so engaged in his narrative that he did not notice his tie getting caught into one of the gears. As soon as he felt his head being jerked aside, it was too late: the youngster was pulled into the gearhouse and mangled to death. Unfortunately there was nothing the horrified tourists could do to stop the massive power of the windmill.


The goal of this anecdote was not just to freak you out as it did to me when I was 10 years old: it shows the tremendous power of the 17th and 18th century windmills. This power was utilized to keep the vastly expanding Dutch economy moving forward during its Golden Age. Windmills were used for milling of grain, pumping water and sawing timber. Windmills were common throughout most parts of Europe, but Holland was the undisputed forerunner with respect to design and usage of windmills. Around 1850, the number of windmills in use peaked at approximately 9000. Although no longer in use, the traditional windmill is still an essential part of the landscape of the Netherlands.

It should come to no surprise that windmills played an important role in the development of Holland: there is plenty of wind, water, and it's flat as a pancake. During its Golden Age, Holland was an important naval power. Advanced woodworking skills and an extensive knowledge of harnessing wind power were crucial for perfecting the windmill design. There were marshes and lakes to be pumped to reclaim land for an expanding economy. Ships sailed the orient, returning with raw materials to be milled. Increasing amounts of flour were necessary to keep up with population growth.

But the windmill was not invented in Holland. The first windmills were built in Persia around 600 A.D. to grind grain. The first designs may have been derived from water wheels, or grinding wheels driven by animals. They were built like a merry-go- round, with a vertical shaft and blades. Part of the construction was shielded from the wind to direct the rotation (see figure).


       \ | /      <- Prevailing wind direction
    | __\|/__ |
    |   /|\   |
    |  / | \  |
     (top view)

This early design had significant drawbacks: at any time, only half of the blades were effective for propulsion, and the construction was fixed at one wind direction. The Chinese discovered that a wheel on a horizontal shaft with angled blades would not require the shielding walls.

The Crusaders returned to Europe with the concept of the early windmills. Around the 11th-12th century, windmills were built all over Europe. Colonialization spread the use of windmills all over the world. Most of the early European windmills were still very primitive. They consisted of a cylindrical body with a conical roof. The mills were usually fitted with bars rigged with simple jib sails. These windmills, as popularized by Don Quixote still exist in several countries around the Mediterranean.

But the Dutch took the design of the windmill to another level. In fact, they built a wide variety of types. Although there is some overlap in the various styles, the main types are:

  • Post mill (Standaardmolen)
  • Hollow post mill (Wipmolen)
  • Dutch drainage mill (Kloeke poldermolen)
  • Tower and stage mill ((Stellingmolen, Torenmolen)
  • Paltrok

The mills consisting of a rotating cap (bovenkruiers or "upper winders"). These are further categorized as binnenkruiers ("inside winders") with a cap that can be turned by an interior winch mechanism, or buitenkruiers ("outside winders") in which the cap is turned by a winch on the end of an exterior tail pole. Alternatively, windmills are categorized by their application: corn mills, mustard mills, drainage mills, saw mills, paper mills, etc.

Windmill designs vary from model to model, and they were refined over several ages. It is difficult to give a detailed description of the various designs. However, a typical Post mill consists of a heavy wooden vertical pillar, or post, which supports a large square house. The post allows for rotation of the box in the direction of the wind using a large tail pole on the back of the mill (considering a buitenkruier.) The windmill house has vent holes on its sides. These holes were used to warn the miller for changing wind directions.

The house is raised high above the ground for the sails to have a significant length, and to catch sufficient wind. The mill can be entered by stairs at the rear of the windmill house. During operation, the stairs rest on the ground to support the mill against the wind force on the sails and mill house. The heavy staircase also forms a counterweight for the massive sail construction.

Traditional Dutch mills always have four sails. The span of the sails is approximately 100 feet; the length of the sails was limited by the size of the available tree trunks. The sails are attached to a wind shaft sloping down away from the sails. On the center of the shaft is a large gear called the brake wheel. In case of too heavy winds, the brake wheel allows the sails to be slowed down or stopped using brake blocks. The brake wheel also transfers rotation onto a wallower connected to an upright shaft. The bottom end of the upright shaft is connected to a large horizontal grinding wheel, which rests in a stone casing.

A grinding mill usually has a sack hoist, which can be coupled to the wind shaft inside the mill. The sack hoist allows raw materials to be hoisted.

The Post mill was typically a small mill. Large mills, like the Hollow post mill also served as storage facility for milling products, and as living space for the miller and family.

The miller played an important role in the community because of his interaction with many customers. An interesting aspect of living at a windmill was the communication by means of the sails. The windmill was a very visible structure in the landscape, and the miller could send codes over great distances. Each mill always turns counterclockwise. A rising sail position, which has one sail slightly short of reaching its highest position would indicate a joyful occasion: birth, marriage, a birthday or celebration. A falling sail position would indicate mourning. There are many other signals, sometimes combined with flags to signify other occasions.

Windmills were not only used for grinding purposes: the other major application was to reclaim land. Holland consisted of large peat bogs that were harvested for home heating. Since the peat was collected from increasingly greater depths, the marshes needed to drained. Furthermore, as a defensive strategy against the Spanish, Holland deliberately broke its dykes. At the end of The Dutch Revolt in 1609, this land needed to be reclaimed.

Two people played a major role in the development of drainage mills: the engineer/mathematician Simon Stevin (1548-1620), and particularly the inventor/engineer/constructor Jan Adriaensz Leeghwater (1575-1650). Leeghwater (whose name coincidentally means "empty water" in Dutch) executed several large drainage projects. Leeghwater achieved international fame with his study on the drainage of the Haarlemmermeer; a 13 feet deep lake that was to be drained using 160 windmills. However, the project was only started in the mid-1800s, with the introduction of steam engines. If you ever fly to Holland, look around you during the landing; Schiphol (Ship's Hell) is right in the former Haarlemmermeer.

The introduction of the steam engine marked the end of the traditional windmill as a major workhorse. The number of windmills dropped from its peak of 9000 in 1850 to approximately 2500 in 1900. With the founding of The Dutch Windmill Society in 1924, the interest in preserving these historical landmarks increased, but many mills were severely damaged during World War II. Approximately 900-1000 windmills are remaining in the Netherlands.

But the concept of wind power isn't completely forgotten. During the oil crisis in the 1970s, modern wind turbines were studied to replace fossil fuel power plants. Advances in materials have made these windmills more reliable and more efficient. Although these windmills aren't sufficient to supply the entire electricity demand, they may form a useful addition to Holland's power requirements in the future. Several wind parks are set up along the coast. As an engineer, I am happy to see these modern windmills spinning on the Dutch horizon; a reflection of an 800 year old tradition.

Factual sources:

http://www.tem.nhl.nl/~smits/windmill.htm (amazing historical details)
http://www.windmillworld.com/windmills/history.htm (with many more interesting links)

Windmill is a style of pitching in baseball, or more often, softball. It is a form of underhand pitching, where the pitcher rotates his or her arm a complete 360 degrees around its socket before releasing the ball in an underhand throw. In appearance, the arm is like the blade of a windmill, which is what gives this style its name.

Windmill pitching has advantages and disadvantages over normal underhand pitching. The momentum gained while rotating the ball usually makes windmill pitching faster; however, both by swinging one's arm around and by pitching faster, windmill pitching is also a lot harder to control. Many organizations such as Little League Softball allow both types of underhand pitching, even though extra speed exchanged for a loss of control is often a dangerous combination.

Cape Cod windmills then and now

I've always loved windmills.  There's something about them that just makes me smile.  I think it may have something to do with the combination of engineering elegance, and architectural whimsy that they universally exhibit.  I like em all, from the old weather beaten Aeromotor out in Auntie Em's pasture, to the shingled mill tower so unjustly attacked by Don Quixote de la Mancha.  In some respect, my favorites are the businesslike acres of high tech spinning industry one finds in modern wind farms.  Certainly part of the appeal is the lure of getting something for nothing.  Using our minds to create a device to harness this insubstantial energy then stepping back and letting it do real work while we sit in the shade.  When we moved to Cape Cod in the mid 1990's, I was delighted to find that the salty breezes here have powered many a windmill over the span of history and they are still very much in the news today.  

The Past: Canvas & Shingles

The first windmill constructed on Cape Cod was built in 1687 at Cobb's Hill in Barnstable Village.  This eight sided smock-type mill was built by the millwright Thomas Paine of Eastham, Massachusetts who received 32£ for his efforts.  The success of Cobb's Hill mill quickly gave rise to many others and over the course of the next one hundred years over fifty of these statuesque beauties were spread over the Cape.  Nearly every town had at least one windmill to perform the essential task of grinding the harvest of grain.  The local mills also served a more social function as a gathering place where the townsfolk gathered to enjoy a chat while they waited for their grains to be ground.

Every successful windmill required the efforts of at least three talented individuals. First, there was the millwright, who constructed the windmill tower, a structure strong enough to withstand the fierce winter storms common to the Cape.  Next came the millstone picker, who was responsible for selecting and carving the millstones as well as maintaining them once they were in service.  Finally, the miller, often a retired sea captain, who ran the mill, adjusted it based on the wind conditions and repaired the many yards of its canvas sails.  Not so very different from a ship after all.

The smock-type windmills traditionally built on Cape Cod were a second generation improvement on the earlier post mills developed in Europe. Smock-type mills have a fixed tower housing the mill machinery,  and a "smock" or cap on top that rotates, allowing the blades and rotor to follow the wind. Typically the body of a smock-type mill is octagonal and tapers slightly inward as it rises above the ground.  Inside the tower were one or more sets of millstones used to grind the grain.  Millstones are typically thick granite disks about a meter in diameter and 40 centimeters thick with shallow grooves radiating out from the center.  The bottom stone is fixed in place and the top stone rotates above it, powered by the blades and rotor through a gearing system.  The distance between the top and the bottom stones could be adjusted, controlling the coarseness of the grind.  

You can still find many fine examples of these historical windmills throughout the Cape.  Lovingly restored windmills can be found in the towns of Bourne, Orleans, Chatham, Sandwich, Brewster and Eastham among others.  Some these are privately owned, while others, such as the Old Mill in Eastham are open to the public. 

The Future: Turbines and Megawatts

While the old shingled windmills spinning slowly in the sea breeze have a solid lock on our nostalgic daydreams, the imagination of modern cape codders has been captured by windmills of a very different type.  Cape Wind Associates, a private corporation proposes to put 130 high tech wind turbines on Horseshoe Shoal, five miles off the southern shore of Cape Cod.  Each wind turbine will stand 197 meters above sea level, and have three 50 meter blades.  The project will cover 25 square miles and a peak output will produce enough energy to power more than half a million homes, and save over a hundred million gallons of oil each year.  Cape Wind Associates anticipates spending over $150 million dollars on the project.

On the face of it, you might think that this would be a dream project for Cape Cod.  After all, it's clean, it's green and it would make a statement to the rest of the country that we are serious about exploring alternative sources of energy.  Unfortunately, the reality has been nearly so simple and the project is currently snarled in a nasty political tug of war.  

The unlikely list of project opponents includes:

The give and take of the argument is a fascinating study in the complexity of modern environmental politics and NIMBY-esque rhetoric.  Here are some representative examples:

Marine Mammals

Pro: The most common ocean mammals in Nantucket Sound are seals. Extensive studies of the Bockstigen wind farm off the shore of Sweden found no adverse impact to the abundant local seal population there. In fact, seals have been regularly observed sunning themselves on rocks near the Bockstigen wind farm and near the Tuno Knob wind farm off the shore of Denmark.

Con: Horseshoe Shoals is within 7 miles of Muskeget and 12.5 miles of Monomoy islands, which are important haul-out areas for more than 7,000 gray and harbor seals and pupping sites for gray seals.  Data indicate that harp, hooded, harbor, and gray seals are stranded regularly from Falmouth to Monomoy and are, therefore, likely transiting the area on a regular basis. Because of potential noise during construction, wildlife may abandon habitat, seals may abandon pups, and animals may experience potentially permanent hearing loss. 


Pro: When designed properly, wind turbines are much safer to birds than other sources of energy production. The nation’s reliance on fossil fuel energy has brought enormous harm to birds from oil spills, habitat destruction due to practices like “mountaintop removal” mining, and mercury contamination of the fish they eat.

Con: Horseshoe Shoals is in the middle of the Atlantic flyway with one of the largest known concentrations of waterfowl on the east coast.  As many as 250,000 to 500,000 birds are found here for at least six months of the year.  The endangered roseate tern and threatened piping plover are known to migrate through Nantucket Sound, as do thousands of other birds during their spring and fall migration.  It is critical that these species and their rich habitat are not adversely impacted by the construction of a windmill farm.

Navigational Hazards

Pro: Cape Wind does not seek exclusive use of Horseshoe Shoal. Access for boaters who use this shallow shoal will not change. The wind turbines will be spaced six-to-nine football fields apart to provide plenty of room for navigation. Cape Wind will be given permission to install wind turbines only if government agencies determine that, on balance, it is in the public interest to provide this clean, non-polluting electricity from this location in this manner. Cape Wind is undergoing a full, comprehensive and rigorous permitting review from federal, state and regional authorities. Numerous government authorities are involved in reviewing and approving various aspects of this project including: US Army Corps of Engineers, US Coast Guard, Federal Aviation Administration, Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, Massachusetts office of Coastal Zone Management and the Cape Cod Commission.

Con: The Corps of Engineers is considering permitting this project under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act, which is designed to address hazards to navigation. This is insufficient for a project of this magnitude. Other activities that impact the marine environment, such as oil and gas exploration and development, are subject to laws requiring issuance of leases through a competitive process, and provide procedures for addressing environmental concerns and balancing project benefits against adverse impacts.  Until the proper process has been established to consider the impacts of windmill farms such as this project, we call for a halt to the issuance of permits for wind, wave, and other energy installations in federal waters.

Visual Impacts

Pro: From the shore, the slender supporting towers will blend in with the horizon making them nearly invisible on all but the clearest days. While many people who have seen modern wind turbines describe them as beautiful and fascinating to watch, we recognize that aesthetic values vary. The project’s location several miles away from shore will reduce the visual impact of the wind turbines. On clear days, they will appear like small masts on the horizon.

Con: The towers will not, as developers insist, "blend in with the marine landscape" unless they are installed under water. The horizon and miles of towers will be plainly visible from south-facing points on Cape Cod at or above sea level.

And on and on and on.  The long history of windmills on Cape Cod continues to this day. 

Look there, my friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or
more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom
I mean to engage in battle and slay!

- Cervantes


Comprehensive Windmill Website: http://www.windmillworld.com/
Mechanical drawings of a Smock-type Windmill: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage
Cape Wind Associates: http://www.capewind.org
PMMRC Windfarm Statement of Concern: http://pmmrc.org/windfarmstatementofconcern.htm 
Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound: http://www.saveoursound.org/

The fundament. She has no fortune but her mills; i.e. she has nothing but her **** and a*se.

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Wind"mill` (?), n.

A mill operated by the power of the wind, usually by the action of the wind upon oblique vanes or sails which radiate from a horizontal shaft.



© Webster 1913.

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