Foundations of Construction: ‘New Ideal’ windmill, an award-winning achievement

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“A power windmill at a farm in Cunard, Nova Scotia, manufactured by Goold, Shapley & Muir Co., Limited in Brantford, Ontario. Pg. 46 in the 1905 company Catalogue.” Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/brantfordwindmil00goul/page/46/mode/2up?view=theater&q=height
“A power windmill at a farm in Cunard, Nova Scotia, manufactured by Goold, Shapley & Muir Co., Limited in Brantford, Ontario. Pg. 46 in the 1905 company Catalogue.” Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/brantfordwindmil00goul/page/46/mode/2up?view=theater&q=height

By Suzanna McLeod

Special to Ontario Construction News

Harnessing wind, gusts, and breezes, humans have used versions of windmills throughout the centuries to produce energy. Scattered across the countryside today, modern wind farms use aerodynamically designed blades connected to a driveshaft and generator to transform kinetic energy into power. Before advanced technologies existed, a firm in Ontario was manufacturing award-winning, efficient windmills at their Brantford plant

The Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s spurred the need for electricity to operate factory machinery, facilitate transportation, and support household needs. Electric lighting was replacing oil and kerosene lamps, and without large public energy systems, windmills were a necessity for urban and rural use. European and North American inventors accepted the challenge to develop energy-making equipment, including mechanical and electrical engineer, Nicola Tesla (1856-1943).

The brilliant inventor proved the efficiency of AC (alternating current) power over DC (direct current). “AC typically changes direction 50 or 60 times per second,” according to American Physical Society archives, May 2003. “With a transformer, the AC voltage can be stepped up, and the current correspondingly stepped down” to limit resistive heating loss over distances.

In the early 1880s, “Tesla invented polyphase alternating current systems of generators, motors and transformers.” Westinghouse purchased the designs, and pushed for AC to become the standard for power. Innovative businesses grabbed the opportunity to advance society and living standards with renewable electricity. Among them was Goold, Shapley & Muir Co., Limited of Brantford, Ontario.

Founded in 1892 by Edward Gould, W.H. Shapley, and John Muir, the firm specialized in a range of innovative mechanical products to meet the new century’s needs. (It is unknown why Gould preferred Goold in company name.)  Manufacturing refrigerators and supplies for beekeepers, GSM diversified into farm and industrial machinery. The southwestern Ontario company produced gasoline engines and tractors, hand pumps and concrete mixers along with towers, and notably, windmills producing AC power.

“Steel windmills for power purposes have long passed that stage of criticism as being a luxury,” stated the GSM catalogue in 1905. GSM windmills were valuable mechanisms, able to “do your grinding, pulping, straw cutting, run your saw, pump your water, and in fact run any machine on the farm.”

The company’s design, with blades securely welded to a central ring, could be placed on a three- or four-post galvanized steel tower standing 3.6 m to 4.87 m, or atop a building in a sufficiently windy location. The mill’s wheel was a technical achievement, with “the right amount of material contained in it to give it the proper wind surface.” Precisely curved, the blades were set at an angle calculated to catch the wind for the best power production.

Research led to development of brackets, clips, arms, and vanes that were fabricated in strong materials and then galvanized. Shafting was made of cold-rolled steel, and the windmill’s bearings were the manufacturer’s patented specialty.

Issued Patent No. 43,143, Gould, Shapley & Muir ensured their commercial lead in producing roller and ball bearings for use in windmills. Composed of high-quality materials, “all our Bearings run in a hardened steel case which is one of the characteristics of their lasting and easy-running qualities,” said the catalogue. Requiring less oil than average bearings, the GSM bearings “also give more power than any other Bearing yet introduced.”

GSM’s “New Ideal” power mill engine featured ‘extra heavy’ gears with provisions “made so that any slack can easily be taken up on the gears in case of wear.” Larger steel balls of the turntable “carry the weight of the engine and they run in a chilled track,” allowing “the mill to adjust itself to the wind very quickly and consequently gives increased power.”

Controlled by the company’s governor, Patent No. 63,467, the GSM windmill’s speed was evenly maintained. The governor “will not allow the wheel to run above a certain speed, making this mill perfectly safe in a storm.” A pull-in wire permitted a spring to pull “the mill out of the wind, and an automatic lock secures the mill and vane together,” described the catalogue. “The brake keeps the wheel from running while out of the wind.”

Entering the wind trials of the Royal Agricultural Society of England with several competitors, GSM workers installed mills on the show-yard near London. The windmills were graded between March 2 and April 30, 1903. The Brantford company won First Prize, receiving cheques totalling £60. The best award was the international bragging rights.

In the mid-1930s, Goold, Shapley & Muir Co., Limited closed due to plummeting sales in the Great Depression. Purchased by customers across the province and the country, a number of the company’s durable windmills remain in operation, many still tended with tender loving care.

In December 2002, Ontario Power Generation and British Energy Canada opened the province’s first commercial wind farm near Kincardine with the installation of five wind turbines.

© 2024 Susanna McLeod. McLeod is a Kingston-based freelance writer who specializes in Canadian History

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