Today, a windmill blows Texas into the 21st
century. The University of Houston's College of
Engineering presents this series about the machines
that make our civilization run, and the people
whose ingenuity created them.
In 1845 the United States
annexed a sovereign independent nation. That nation
was Texas. We became a state. Many Americans didn't
like the idea. After all, Texas was a nation of
foreigners -- mostly new immigrants from Northern
One of those immigrants was F.G. Witte. Just about
the time we became a state, Witte imported a pair
of millstones from Europe. They were four feet in
diameter and a foot thick. They came by ship --
then rode an oxcart to Goliad County. There, Witte
set up the first windmill in Texas.
The mill stood about 20 feet high, and it ground
corn for over a decade. Witte could handle 500
pounds of grain a week, but only when the wind was
Twenty-five years later, in 1870, two more German
immigrants bought Witte's mill and rebuilt it.
Their new mill was much fancier, but it still used
Witte's old grinding stones.
They built what we call a Dutch mill. It stood 35
feet high with 20-foot sails. The sails of a Dutch
mill ride on a rotating turret with a long handle
that reaches the ground. That way you can turn the
top of the mill so it always faces into the wind.
The lower part of the building is stationary.
But Texas isn't Holland. When European technology
crossed the ocean, it always mutated. Holland's
mills were solid masonry structures. This mill was
made of wood. Big as it was, you could still break
it down and move it.
The rotating turret in this mill didn't turn very
smoothly. The mill also took a beating in high
winds. So the new owners strengthened it. Then they
moved it -- maybe more than once -- looking for
The mill ground cornmeal for many years. Finally,
by the turn of the century, it sat idle -- replaced
by modern machines. Then, in 1935, the ladies of
the Victoria Morning Study Club arranged to move it
one last time. They took it into Victoria, Texas.
There it's been a tourist attraction ever since.
And what an oddity it is! This is a medieval
technology, suddenly come to a Stone Age land. It
seems so out of place. Yet this was one of our
first steps on the road to the 21st century. We
telescoped that road into just 150 years.
At first you think it must be a kitchy restaurant.
But this is nothing of the kind. This very real
windmill is one quick step in the explosive rise of
the modern West. It shows us a blink of
19th-century change in a way no textbook ever
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds