Dutch Windmill heritage

The windmill is irrefutable connected to the Netherlands, but does that automatically make us the inventor of the Windmill? Absolutely not. A couple of hundred years before we built ours , the middle east already used theirs.



Then how come whenever people think of windmills, they automatically connect the dot to the Netherlands? I believe it has everything to do with marketing because that’s where we Dutch excel. I mean, who is not familiar with Dutch masters like Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt van Rijn?

The past

Back in the 16th century windmills became a familiar sight in the Netherlands and were commonly used to:
– saw wood,
– grind grain &
– pump water

With the Netherlands lying below sea level, pumping water was crucial. Together with a complex irrigating system, including locks and dykes, these wind powered factories played an important role in the survival of our country. Around 1850 The Netherlands reached a peak residing around 10.000 windmills.

So you would like to visit a windmill? No problem. Our country has preserved well over 1000 of them. Probably one of the best windmill-experiences can be gained at ‘Kinderdijk-Elshout’ (see picture below), a region in the province of Zuid-Holland. This UNESCO World Heritage area has 19 windmills to choose from.


©image: alblasserdamsnieuws.nl

The present

The 20th century industrial revolution made the use of windmills obsolete and most were replaced by steam engines. But the 1973 oil crisis made us realize that fossil-based energy wasn’t going to last forever and we started exploring alternative resources again, one of them being the almost ever-present wind. And so it didn’t take long for the Dutch to have blades whipping against the wind once again, only this time from wind turbines.

The Netherlands plan on having 14% of total energy production to be green by the year 2020. To reach that goal Dutch government is investigating expanding our current wind energy resources.
But because wind isn’t the only green energy source available, our government is looking to explore all alternative options before even considering prolonging wind turbines. Come to think of it, today’s wind turbines don’t exactly have a very good reputation. They suffer from drawbacks like:

  1. High maintenance costs.
  2. Producing a lot of noise.
  3. Wind (speed) dependable.
  4. Ugly looking (to me anyway).
©image: http://richardtullochwriter.com

©image: richardtullochwriter.com

The future

Does the future of wind turbines look grim? So far this article confirms the argument and since wind turbines need to focus on producing electricity, appearance are of less importance.
Fortunately it isn’t all bad news. People and companies all over the world perform studies on more quiet, efficient and better looking turbines. I have strong belief there is still a future for them. After all, which energy source has all positives? I can’t think of one eiter!

But this article is about windmills and that’s what I want to end with. Since authentic windmills nowadays are mainly used as tourist attraction I was happy to find a unique, modern-day project called ‘Dutch Windmill 2.0’.
DW20 combines beautiful multipurpose design with traditional Dutch heritage. Click on the picture below to enter their mysterious site and read their vision.




So can we once again paint our Dutch landscape with beautiful windmills or is DW20 nothing more than a dream? I think we’ll just have to wait and see where the wind blows.
But I strongly believe that windmills and the Netherlands are, and will be, irrefutable connected for as long as we keep true to our heritage. And to me that’s a comforting thought.

Behold! a giant am I!
Aloft here in my tower,
With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
And grind them into flour.

passage from ‘The Windmill’
A poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


One response to “Dutch Windmill heritage

  1. Pingback: A ceramic blueprint story | A Dutch perspective·

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