- Renewable & Alternative Energy
Vintage Wind Generators | Wind powered generators used up to mid 1900
These small wind generators once sprouted off roof tops and towers just like TV antennas did before cable was invented.
In 1916 slightly over half of the US population did not have electricity.
Those who lived in large cities accounted for 90% of all electrical users, while only 10% of rural America was being served with electrical power.
This large underserved population in the rural areas led to the development of a small roof or tower mounted generator named the Wincharger.
The Wincharger would store electricity into batteries to be used for a few lights and DC powered appliances.
The Wincharger was made using an automotive generator equipped with a 6’ airplane type propeller mounted on a rotating pivot base and equipped with a miniature water windmill tail.
The design was fairly simplistic in that almost any machine shop or mechanic could of made themselves.
Except for the automatic governor control mechanism used to control the blade speeds during high winds was an engineering masterpiece that many could not be easily duplicate.
During high winds on water well windmills the tail was hinged to manually release from the ground to fold sideways.
When the tail was in this position it would push the blades out of the direct wind so that they would not go into an over speed damaging and dangerous situation .
The Wincharger utilized an automatic governor device located behind the propeller. From the ground it appeared to be another much shorter propeller looking object .
It was a flat bar with two metal weighted ends that were hooked to hinged mounts and then attached with springs.
This spring loaded mechanism worked off centrifugal force. As the winds increased the end weights would converge into the center to divert wind away from the propeller and apply pressure on a brake drum also attached to the propeller shaft.
The Wincharger brake drum could also be operated manually using a pull down lever.
The lever was hooked to the brake shoe that would lock the propeller by pulling down and latching a chain, rope or wire hooked from the ground.
The Wincharger quickly became known as a farm generator as farm families began to read about it in farm magazines, its popularity also grew.
Some farms did have gasoline generators, but they were noisy and costly to run. The gasoline generators were primarily used only for short periods of time and to charge batteries.
Farmers without a gasoline generator would bring their batteries into town and leave at gas stations for days at a time to be charged.
Because car generators (Alternators) used at that time were only designed for 6 volt systems the Wincharger would only charge 6 volt automobile batteries.
Despite this lower voltage a family farm could power several 6 volt automotive bulbs to use as lighting in the evening.
Appliance makers also began making some DC powered appliances that would also run off 6 volts.
In 1920 the first radio station took to the airwaves which then set off an explosion in what was then considered the most advanced modern household invention for that time, the radio.
Soon these magical airwaves could be captured in a box in the family living room by the introduction of a battery powered vacuum tube radio.
Radio programs offered current news, and stories for the family to join around the radio box and listen to pre-television, comedy, dramas and westerns.
Up until that point people could only read about or see such events in a movie picture show or at a live play.
Zenith Radio Company quickly realized that the majority of the US population was still without electricity and even with the battery powered radio’s rural families were hesitant to use up their batteries on such foolish entertainment.
The radio business was beginning to boom in the city areas but in order to increase sales Zenith would need to somehow resolve the battery dilemma.
Zenith managed what might be considered at the time as a surprise hostile takeover obtaining 51% control of the Wincharger company and shortly afterwards began to offer the Zenith Winchargers at deep discounts along with their radios.
The Wincharger by itself was sold in the mid forty dollar range but with the Zenith radio a family could have the generator for less than half the price when they purchased a new radio.
The Wincharger generator business boomed and in 1930’s and the company hit the sweet spot with a waiting list for new generators to be manufactured.
What is interesting is this is also during this period that the Great Depression was beginning to ravage the country in very difficult economic times with many companies going under.
People apparently didn’t feel that this convenience was no longer considered foolish, rather it became a necessity.
Several other companies attempted to cash in on the Wincharger success. Wincharger also stuck solely on their one basic model using the 6 volt car generator to power the Zenith radio.
One of the most successful companies was Jacobs who began to offer a 32 volt generator system in 1931.
This much higher voltage would allow the homeowner and farmer to have more powerful appliances that were also offered by Jacobs or through affiliated products that they sold.
Instead of using a stock automotive generator Jacobs built their own much larger and far superior generators offering both a 45 and 60 Amp models.
Jacobs was also more business savvy in the marketing and packaging of their products to a wider need by offering a complete home electric 32 volt system that packaged their wind generator complete with tower, lead glass batteries and a gas or diesel powered generator.
The batteries could store enough power to last several days during clam periods.
Wincharger also woke up and developed a larger 32 volt generator to compete with this new giant that was taking away their market share but Jacobs already had a good head start.
Jacobs continued to produce highly quality power plants with advanced controller technology.
Both companies dominated the small wind generator business until the Rural Electrification Act went into full swing in 1936.
Both began to see sales drop as people converted over wanting the more citified options offered by electrical power coming into their homes.
Still both companies sold units up into the 1940s and early 50s. Wincharger was wiped out by a flood in Iowa in 1953 which put them out of business.
Winco purchased what was left of the Wincharger business and continue to build stationary based generators today.
Jacobs has continued in the wind business and produces large turbine wind generators today.
During the oil embargo in the 70s these old generators were sought after by self-sufficient minded people and were purchased from farmers who had mainly left them abandoned on roof tops and towers or stored in junk piles. Many were reconditioned and placed back into service.
Today the concept of small roof top and tower mounted generators to produce supplemental DC power is once again becoming very popular as self-sufficient minded people are wanting to escape the grip of grid power.
Isn’t it interesting how history does repeat if self?
Photos are courtesy of the self-sufficient back to basics minded people at Cottage Craft Works .com who have developed a complete online general store full of old time products mostly still made in the USA.
This recondition Wincharger is located in the Shulenburg Texas Historical Museum.