Weathervanes, or wind vanes, have been used for centuries. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, the weather vane has served a dual purpose. Since the advent of the weathervane, their use has been both decorative and functional. The source of the wind may not have been fully understood, but people of ancient cultures certainly understood how important the wind is a predictor of the weather.
It should come as no surprise that the simple weathervane became as ornamental as it is practical. Historians believe the one of the first weathervanes was part of the Tower of Winds in ancient Greece. The tower was believed to have been constructed around forty B.C. by the astronomer Andronicus.
The Romans constructed many of their weathervanes from images of the gods. Prior to the advent of recorded scientific observation, there was a great deal of superstition around the weather. Through good weather or bad, the gods were often given credit for the prevailing winds.
Seafarers in ancient times used a simple type of weathervane, in the form of a small piece of cloth fastened to the rigging. This makeshift wind vane came to be known as a telltale and is still used today by sailors. The telltale was not the only use for a simple piece of cloth to indicate the strength and relative direction of the wind.
The weather vane has been discovered to be part of almost every ancient culture. Aside from depictions of various gods, animal themes common for wind vanes, even today. The use of animal characters usually had a connection to religious beliefs. Artisans have adopted the weathervane as a medium for their craft adding to the decorative qualities of these simple weather tools.
Balance is the key to a properly functioning weathervane, as the weathervane must be able to turn in reaction to the slightest breeze. The center of the weathervane must rest on a center axis and be equally balanced on both sides. A basic design includes a center post with the body of the weathervane resting over it. The center post may come to a sharply tapered point. The body of the weathervane would fit on the post in a way were the weight would be concentrated directly on the point. If the body of the weathervane is not allowed to move freely, its reaction to changes in wind direction and speed will be too slow.
The shape of the weather vane can vary from a simple arrow, to more ornate and decorative figures. Even a large weathervane can be designed in way that optimizes its reaction to the wind. The shape is probably more important than the size. The body of the weathervane must designed in a way that is somewhat aerodynamic. An airplane wing creates lift by generating a positive pressure under the wing surface and a negative pressure on the top. Think of a weathervane as a wing surface turned perpendicular to the ground. The reaction to both positive and negative pressure causes the weather vane to turn.
Farmers and ranchers used relied on the wind to operate water pumps. Anyone who has traveled the American heartland may remember seeing these simple windmills turning. A key to an operating windmill is its ability to rotate with changes in wind direction. These windmills have a tail stock that acts in the same way a weathervane does, helping to point the blades of the windmill in the optimal direction.
For most of us, the need for a windmill has little to do with whether we have a weathervane. In these days of modern meteorology, weather predictions are readily available, often in great detail. These advancements in modern technology have rendered the humble weather vane to a decorative addition to our homes. Like many pieces of Americana, antique weathervanes have become quite collectible. Many diverse themes have been used for the wind vane from the artistic to the humorous. With a rich history and functionality, the humble windmill can add a touch of whimsy and lore to your home.
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