A curious vertical axis wind turbine in 16th century La Mancha

But how did it work?

In many ways this is a depressing enterprise, although I haven’t yet found the early modern Spanish colonial administrator who, thinking of gold and silver and the Fuggers, must have prototyped the Venezuelan politician Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo’s truism, “Ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see: oil will bring us ruin … Oil is the Devil’s excrement.” Salvador Sostres’ polemical “El impero británico perdió las colonias y nacieron los Estados Unidos; España perdió las colonias y nació el circo.” and Argentina’s huge natural resources are roughly where things stand now, but looking back there are moments when, amidst generalised sloth, you find someone being industrious and clever, and you fear to find what became of him.

An example. Someone has kindly pointed me to a licence, now in Simancas, which was granted to a guy from a village near Albacete who decided, perhaps because he also wanted to use beast-power without adding gearing, perhaps for some other reason, that horizontal axis windmills – the Manchegan standard – didn’t cut it, and built himself a machine consisting of a vertical revolving pole with at the top four (vertical) square blades. The cream on the pudding: each blade apparently contains a window, which, as the pole turns, opens on one side and closes on the other. Unfortunately there’s no diagram, so I’m trying to imagine – with some poorly-remembered A-level physics – how this would have provided an advantage, and whether anyone else was doing this kind of thing. Lunch for anyone who builds a model along these lines:

If you ask Simancas, will they mail you a copy of docs?

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Last updated 02/07/2018

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

Albacete (36): Albacete [Spanish pronunciation: [alβaˈθete]] is a city and municipality in the Spanish autonomous community of Castilla-La Mancha, and capital of the province of Albacete.

Archivo General de Simancas (1): The General Archive of Simancas is an official archive located in the castle of Simancas, province of Valladolid, Castile and León, Spain.

Resource curse (1): The resource curse, also known as the paradox of plenty, refers to the paradox that countries with an abundance of natural resources, tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources.

Spain (1881):

Street performance (274):

Vertical axis wind turbine (1): Vertical-axis wind turbines are a type of wind turbine where the main rotor shaft is set transverse to the wind while the main components are located at the base of the turbine.


    1. Náiguel Puig i Clot
      May 7th 2012 23:20

      Naig thinks that the windows were designed to limit its speed in high winds.

    2. Trebots
      May 8th 2012 17:37

      That’s an interesting suggestion. Here’s an ingenious invention which automatically alters shutter aperture on the blades in order to maintain constant rotor speed:

    3. Trebots
      May 8th 2012 17:39

      And check the shutters on this one:

    4. Trebots
      May 8th 2012 17:45

      I’ve got it – diagram to follow. How dumb I am.

    5. Trebots
      May 8th 2012 17:50

      That’s handy:

      So it’s a panemone windmill. That can’t have been that special, so I guess he’s patenting some aspect of the pivoting device, to stop it flapping around horribly.

    6. Náiguel Puig i Clot
      May 8th 2012 17:51

      …thus saving everyone from the ignominy of being the bearer of bad news.

    7. Trebots
      May 8th 2012 17:56

      Darrell Dodge has a really inefficient one:

      WP makes it sound like early European mills were horizontal axis ie more efficient, so maybe this is just a dumb Manchegan aka creative anachronism.

    8. A Nun
      May 8th 2012 20:12

      The panemone is nice because you don’t need to turn it. God knows how the Persians managed with their version.

    9. Trebots
      May 9th 2012 10:16

      Something for everyone in the story: challenging the stereotype of Manchegan horizontal axes, missing link between oriental & occidental VAWTs, er yeah. Unfortunately the idea can’t have caught on, otherwise Quijote would have seen one, perhaps like the Chinese lugger-type, and assumed it was a flock of vultures.

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