The Wincharger Corporation

1927 to 1953

 
 

Albers Propellor Company - In 1927, John and Gerhard Albers started experimenting with wind driven generators eventually becoming the Albers Propeller Co. in Cherokee, Iowa. They developed a small wind generator called the “Wincharger” to charge 6 volt radio batteries. The Wincharger was a local hit and the company grew to three employees and production increased to 6 units per day.


Wincharger Corporation - In December, 1934 the Albers brothers together with Cecil Parris, and Ernest Arndt formed the Wincharger Corporation to manufacture their wind chargers at the Old Hawkeye Truck plant in Sioux City, Iowa. Later that year, executives from the Zenith Radio Corporation visited Wincharger unannounced, placed an order for 50,000 Winchargers, and took a 51 percent stake in the company. The small Wincharger radio unit would become the most produced wind generator over the next 60 years and the Wincharger name would immediately become an important force in the wind electric plant business. The new larger 30,000-square-foot manufacturing plant had 52 full time employees, the product line was expanded to include larger full home units, and daily production increased to 200 units. Zenith bought the remaining 49 percent of WIncharger, and sales of radio and full home power plants was maintained under the difficult market circumstances resulting from federal rural electrification.


Wincharger Radio Plants - In time, production of the radio charger soared to 2,000 units a day at a price of $44 apiece, or even better at $15 per unit with the purchase of a special Zenith radio with a single rechargeable 6 volt battery. The unit was a two-blade, upwind, direct-drive design. A single 6-foot-long Douglas fir, a 1 x 4 inch board was shaped to the company’s patented air foil propeller specifications and fitted with their patented air brake governor. These components were attached by a drum brake plate to the generator. At wind speeds above 20 mph, the flaps which would normally travel in a circle would extend out to counteract the propeller forces and limit the speed up to a point. Prudent Wincharger owners would apply the brake when severe weather approached. A tail vane was fixed in place by a length of angle iron to the back of the generator to point it into the wind. A small four-post tower with a turntable, slip ring assembly, and mounting feet for easy installation on the roof of an outbuilding were included. It was not a good idea to mount the Wincharger on the roof of the house since the roof would act as a sounding board to the point of being intolerable. Wires connected the generator to a simple relay panel in the house and to the radio battery. When the wind blew, the battery would charge and the radio would provide continuous entertainment on demand. Since the battery was usually kept charged, the owner would frequently add a few light bulbs to make good use of the abundant wind energy. Larger direct drive models based on this design and rated 500 to 650 watts with an 8 foot diameter propellor would be offered over time.


Wincharger Power Plants - Before too long, a larger 32-volt, gear-driven “Famous” model with an 10-foot diameter propeller rated at 650 watts was offered to the farm electric plant market. This model was similar to the small model in that it was a 2-blade design with the Wincharger patented air-brake governor. It sold for $69.95, plus tower and battery when it was first introduced. But bigger would not be big enough for the Albers brothers, and a new larger gear-driven generator with an 11-foot  diameter propeller, a 1,200-watt rating, and a movable tail vane that could be used to turn it out of the wind went into production within a few years. The Wincharger “Giant” would compete with the larger wind generators and boasted an output of “175,000 watt-hours per month”. The less expensive gear-driven generator and 2-blade design gave them an important price advantage over direct-drive systems and they competed effectively in the burgeoning farm electric market. An upgraded enclosed control panel was included which had provisions for connecting a 32 volt Delco-Light or other genset. The Giant would evolve over time by increasing the diameter to 12 feet and replacing the air brake governor with two additional blades giving the new model four blades made of aluminum. The pitch of the two additional blades was controlled by a flyball governor mechanism, but the control strategy was the same - two blades with “lift” counteracted by two blades with “drag.”


Wincharger Battery - Manufactured to its specifications and with the company’s name stamped on them. These batteries were available in six sizes from 126 Ah for the smaller models up to 424 Ah for the Giant model.


Wincharger Tower - Two types of towers were offered for use with its wind generators. For the smaller models, a guyed-type tower was offered in 10-foot sections, up to 80 feet. Towers with guy wires to hold them up were significantly less expensive than freestanding towers, but vulnerable to the loss of any one of the guy wires. For the larger models, the Wincharger freestanding tower was offered in heights from 20 to 80 feet high. It was an absolute design marvel and should serve as a model for modern use as it would be easy to adapt the design to larger machines. Conventional wind towers were typically four-post models made out of standard angle-iron. The Wincharger tower was a three-post model, for extra rigidity, and the legs were made into a special U-shaped design with overlaps formed into one end of each leg section to accept the mating section for a very strong joint design. Another innovative feature was a simple and effective tensioning scheme. With level footings extending underground, surrounded at the bottom by concrete and prepared the day before, one person could easily install a tower with a couple of spanner wrenches in three to four hours, leaving the afternoon to install the wind generator. Easy to level, erect, and tension, the Wincharger tower was very rigid, quiet, and had a smaller footprint than four-post towers.


Wincharger became the wind charger volume leader and the radio charger became the longest continuously produced wind generator. The REA gradually impacted their wind business and the company carried on by transitioning to rotary inverters for the military during WWII and in the post war years to other electric generator products. An epic flood in Sioux City in 1953 ruined the factory and ended the wind era. The company was sold and renamed Winco, moved to Minnesota to produce PTO, portable, stationary, and mobile generators, and recently acquired Winpower - another early wind plant manufacturer.


JACOBS WIND ELECTRIC COMPANY

 

The wind charger economy and volume leader

History