The American Wind Charger Industry

1916 to 1960

 
 

THE SPARK

Despite the expansion of electrical use in the cities and larger towns at the turn of the last century, most American homes were still without access to electricity. In 1910, the U.S. population was 92 million and 54 percent lived in rural areas. Electricity access was almost unheard of for farms, cabins, and buildings of any kind that were located far from the cities. Flame lamps, hand pumps for drawing water, and outhouses were the norm. Mechanical windmills were used to pump water from the ground, but only when the wind blew.


In 1916, that was all about to change. America’s inventive spirit during the next 20 years would create an entire industry to provide the convenience of electric power to rural and remote areas. By 1935, nearly one million rural homes, businesses, communities, churches, schools, resorts, and cabins were producing their own electric power with farm and wind electric plants.


Although early inventors were developing both farm and wind electric systems, one engineer would have the most significant impact in creating the farm electric industry. Charles Franklin Kettering, a prolific inventor, was inspired to make electric power available to rural areas - “safer, cleaner, brighter electric lighting, provide for “running water,” and all the “modern convenience appliances.” Fresh from his enormous success at National Cash Register, developing the modern auto electrical system, and leading auto supplier Delco - Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company, Kettering had both the creativity, financial resources, and influence to make it happen. Teaming up with America’s leading battery manufacturer, Kettering’s new Domestic Engineering Company introduced the Delco-Light farm electric light and power plant based on his OHV engine generator set and an Exide Ironclad battery. Fueled by kerosene, the engine would automatically start, operate at it’s optimum fuel efficiency, and charge the battery when it was discharged. Once charged the engine would stop and the battery would power the home for several days before the process repeated. A “hybrid” power plant 100 years before the term became popularized with the hybrid car.


The next major influence on the wind industry and the starting point for its success was the radio. The first newscast by WWJ in Detroit in 1920 launched America into a fascination with this new media. To meet demand in rural areas, manufacturers offered radios that were powered by rechargeable batteries. However, a logistical problem arose: If you did not have a farm electric plant or electricity, you had to take the battery to the gas “service” station in town and have it charged, pick it up later, and put it back in the floor model radio cabinet.


The earliest wind pioneers, Wind Electric Company and Perkins Corporation, were about to get competition from a new breed of wind pioneers. Simultaneously, several entrepreneurs entered the business to supply wind chargers to charge radio batteries. At first. these machines were quite simple, consisting of a 6- or 12-volt car generator with a wood “airplane-type propeller attached to the front and a tail attached to the back to point it into the wind. They worked so well at keeping radio batteries charged that owners soon discovered there was enough excess energy to supply a few electric lights. They would no longer have to listen to the radio by candle or oil lamp anymore. Business thus boomed for several wind charger companies, and these pioneers sought to grow the market by expanding their product lines to include larger full-home models.


While the farm electric plant was based on a small internal combustion engine operating on kerosene, they made noise, exhausted fumes and required fuel and service. A large wind charger added to a farm electric plant significantly reduced fuel. In many areas, the larger wind chargers could supply all the power to a home and the engine was no longer necessary. The companies began supplying their wind electric plants with a slightly larger capacity battery to make this possible where fuel was difficult to obtain or undesirable.


By the 1930s, business was great. The demand for wind machines grew rapidly and companies prospered. Numerous supplier companies and retailers selling and servicing wind electric plants sprang up across the Midwest. These suppliers manufactured towers, batteries, and a myriad of appliances, such as refrigerators, freezers, well pumps, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, kitchen appliances of all types, and motors, that operated directly off this equipment. Even at the height the Great Depression, the industry grew and tens of thousands of people found meaningful employment competing in the marketplace and serving their fellow citizens.


Also during this decade, General Motors, which acquired Delco-Light 10 years earlier, supplied electric power to more rural farms, homes, and businesses than all of the electric companies in the nation combined! The electric utilities thought supplying electricity to rural America was financially foolish and impractical. They were not interested in rural customers, unless they were close to the city and willing to pay installation costs and a premium for each unit of electricity.


In 1935, as the American farm and wind electric industry approached a milestone in serving one million rural homes, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administration by executive order as an “emergency agency to carry electricity to as many farms as possible in the shortest possible time and have it used in quantities sufficient to affect rural life.” Congress enacted the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to transform it into a permanent agency. The impact on the industry was immediate and dramatic - it was destroyed, along with small town economies and thousands of jobs. The wind companies soldiered on against the odds for a few years, but by the time World War II started most converted production to support the war effort, only to fade away after the fighting.


FARM ELECTRIC

 

Wind charger - a machine that converts the kinetic energy in the wind with an aerodynamic propellor to turn a generator and produce electric power for direct use or storage for future use by “charging” a battery. A wind charger and battery is a wind electric plant.

Thank you for visiting windchargers.org and taking the time to learn more about how Americans once successfully produced their own electricity with the magnificent farm and wind electric power plants. We hope our website will inspire a new generation of people, machines, and companies that can help and encourage individuals, like yourself, and businesses to produce their own electricity in the new clean energy economy.