Still Turning: A History of Aermotor Windmills

Still Turning: A History of Aermotor Windmills

Still Turning: A History of Aermotor Windmills

Still Turning: A History of Aermotor Windmills


The Aermotor Windmill Company, which commenced operations in Chicago in 1888, is the nation's sole remaining full-time manufacturer of water-pumping machines. The company's imprint on rural America, particularly across the West, is still visible today in the tens of thousands of its windmills that bring water to the earth's surface. Still Turning is the first book to explore the rise of the American windmill through the experience of this important company.

Aermotor founder La Verne Noyes and engineer Thomas Perry developed and perfected the all-metal wind pump in the 1880s. Within a decade, the "mathematical windmill" began to dominate the market. Aermotor continued to expand and innovate.

The ruggedness and simplicity of the American mechanical windmill has allowed it to outlast many newer water-pumping technologies over the years with minimal maintenance and oversight.

Christopher C. Gillis traces this story and more, from the early days of the company to Aermotor's present-day relevance as it continues to produce its iconic windmills. Still Turning is a significant contribution not only to the history of wind power but also to the history of American enterprise.


The most commonly seen name emblazoned on windmill vanes in towns and fields worldwide is Aermotor. Created by the combined geniuses of a professional engineer and a marketing master, the Aermotor appeared on the American market in the 1880s and within a decade dominated sales in the United States. By 1900 the Chicago-based manufacturer was exporting them to six continents, where they remain in use today. Becoming the most widely sold wind pumps in North America, their silhouetr windmills and the people who built and used them. His is the first book-length academic account of any wind pump that brought life to areas of the earth’s surface that otherwise might never have been settled.

Gillis came to wind power history as an American high school pupil traveling to Belgium as part of a foreign-exchange program. There he discovered European windmills and began a serious study. His university graduation thesis examined the use of factory-made American windmills as devices for pumping groundwater in developing countries. Eventually, as a professional editor, he turned his attention to wind-electric generation, authoring two books on this topic.

I learned of Christopher from his 1994 article in Old Mill News on an Ohio windmill manufacturer. We became personally acquainted after he was approached by the maker of Aermotor windmills to prepare a history of the company, and I offered him use of my substantial files on wind power history. Though the economic recession of the early twenty-first century caused his project for the company to fail, I suggested to Gillis that he consider instead writing an academic book on Aermotor. Through these circumstances the book came to be included in the Tarleton State University Southwestern Studies in the Humanities series.

In the course of his research, Christopher Gillis uncovered far more about the history of Aermotor windmills, their makers, and their users than I or anyone else ever imagined. He located and spoke with aged employees of the manufacturers, he interviewed people from companies worldwide that now make the old Chicago product, and he found heretofore unknown written sources. He skillfully combined these materials to prepare an engaging story that places a genuinely human face on one of the icons of rural life, the Aermotor windmill.

—T. Lindsay Baker, Tarleton State University, Stephenville, Texas . . .

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