How Windmills Helped Settle The Texas Plains

“We didn’t have drinking water if you didn’t have a windmill.”

By Michael MarksMarch 23, 2017 12:44 pm| ,

Sharon Wharton was raised on a farm in the Texas plains. She got her drinking water from a pump turned by a windmill – an air motor type with metal blades. On the plains, there’s no groundwater and the lakes dry up if there isn’t a lot of rain, Wharton says. So it took windmills to pump out water table from under the ground.

“We didn’t have drinking water if you didn’t have a windmill,” Wharton says.

In the late 1800s, steam engines could only go 15 miles before they had to stop and take on a load of water. Across the plains, it took a lot of windmills to keep the water tanks filled, Wharton says.

Between 1850 and 1920 there were over 700 companies manufacturing windmills. But with rural electrification more and more people were using electric pumps instead of windmills.

“Some companies went out of business, some diversified and stayed in business doing other things,” Wharton says.

Back on the farm, even though she wasn’t supposed to play on the windmill, Wharton says she still would climb it and jump off.

“You have respect for it now that you realize how important they were in history,” she says.

Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.