Benson's Patent Model of a Windmill - 1878

This model was filed with the application to the U.S. Patent Office for Patent Number 209,853 issued to Jesse Benson on November 12, 1878. Benson’s invention was an improved style windmill based on a turbine wheel. His claims included the advantages of simplicity, compactness, strength, and cost. He also claimed an improved and simpler governor mechanism. While most period windmills were simple fan designs with separate blades, other turbine wheel designs predated Benson’s patent. Benson’s improvements over earlier designs included simple and strong construction of the turbine wheel. It was based on a conical sheet metal frame that held six turbine blades, or flanges, that were narrow at the point of the conical frame and progressively broadened until they reached the rear of the frame. At that point the blades were bent so that they folded around the rear of the frame and served to strengthen the entire structure. The governor function was realized by bending a portion of the vane that projected beyond the rear of the turbine wheel. As the speed of the wind increased the bent portion of the vane applied force to the shaft of the turbine wheel so as to turn it to a shallower angle to the wind, thus spilling some of the force of the wind and keeping the windmill under control. Provisions were made for adjusting the amount of bend in the vane to accommodate varying local conditions of wind strength. A weighted cord attached to the vane's arm and extending to ground level allowed the user to lock the governor-vane at a 90 degree angle to the turbine wheel shaft. This would stop the windmill entirely.
The patent model is constructed of wood and metal and is mounted on a wooden base. The model is painted red, white, and blue. The governor-fan is labelled “J. Benson.” The model illustrates the main elements of the patent including the turbine wheel and flange designs, the crankshaft, and the governor-fan. In its current condition, the model’s governor-fan has been straightened whereas a key element of the patent was the simple governor mechanism of bending the rear portion of the fan. The model also includes a thread representing the rope extending to the base of the windmill tower used to engage and disengage the windmill.
date made
patent date
Benson, Jesse
place made
United States: Ohio
associated place
United States: Ohio, Champaign county
overall: 9 in x 8 in x 13 1/2 in; 22.86 cm x 20.32 cm x 34.29 cm
ID Number
accession number
patent number
catalog number
Patent Models
Wind energy
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Work and Industry: Mechanical and Civil Engineering
Patent Models
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
American Stories
Exhibition Location
National Museum of American History
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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