Windmills were the backbone of the European economical climate, with up to 10,000 of these picturesque structures spread throughout the Netherlands. Windmills were often featured by famous Dutch painters of the 17th century. Stories were told of these legendary windmills, including a book by Cervantes who wrote of Don Quixote’s celebrated attack on the windmill giants.
From the period beginning in the early 1400’s to the late 1800’s, they accomplished what diesel and electric engines do today. The windmill was designed to pump water, grind grain, and saw timber. On a day with steady winds, the windmill could grind up to 1,000 bushels of grain a week. Compared to the engines of today, windmills generated power without producing all the pollution.
Today, when visitors visit the Netherlands, they can still admire those magnificent structures. Of the nearly 150 remaining windmills that are left in the country, the 19 largest mills can be found at Kinderdijk near Dordrecht and Rotterdam. We are going to take a tour through one such mill. We begin our way up a steep stairway and arrive in the mill’s cap, where we get a view of a horizontal wooden axis that is joined by the vanes. With the help of wooden wheels with cogs and rods, this particular axis steers the vertical shaft that is called the vertical king pivot. You can see how the speed of the rotating vanes can be slowed down, while a string of wooden blocks is around one of the wheels. As we make our way down the steep stairway, we get a close-up view of the main shaft that runs straight through the windmill.
Today’s windmill might seem comfortable to live in, but it was not always like that. The windmills of the past were made up of a ground floor that served both as a living room and bedroom. The compact space consisted of a box bed big enough to sleep two individuals, a kitchen cubicle, and some storage space. If you had a large family, creating a sleeping place for everyone was a challenge. Sometimes the only room left to sleep was under the clamoring cogwheels.
Windmills served many different purposes such as the gristmills for grinding grain, polder mills for pumping water into the river, oil mills for extracting oil from seeds, paper mills for producing paper, and sawmills for cutting timber. It was after a period of time that the mills were used to drain area lakes. Today, multitudes of Dutch live and work on land that was formerly on the bottom of the lakes.
Through the efforts of today’s millers to keep the windmills running, makes it possible for tourists from around the globe to visit these awe-inspiring structures. It is no wonder that they inspired a generation of painters, artists and storytellers.