The History of the Wind Mill


Horse mill

During the peak there were more than 9,000 mills in the Netherlands. Nowadays there are only 1,048 wind mills and 108 water mills left, and tanks to the efforts of volunteers, many of these mills wind are still regularly in operation. This way they keep our cultural heritage alive. But what about the history of these mills?

In the 13th century, the first mills appeared In the Netherlands: horse mills, powered by an animal (horse or donkey), grinding grain into flour. Windmills came later and were taxed - the so-called right of wind, which had to be paid to the lord of the court. Common people were confronted with mill rights, which meant that they themselves were not allowed to grind grain, but had to do this at the mill that was designated for them. Each area had its own mill.

Then, after the Middle Ages, a better type came along: the smock mill, where the sail cross was set from the cap on the wind. Then a tail construction was invented, with which the could miller operate the mill from below. These smock mills were also placed on a wooden or stone high base, in order to maximize the wind as much as possible.

It was not until the 15th century that mills were used for draining the polders (a polder is a low-lying tract of land enclosed by dikes that has no connection with outside water other than through manually operated tools). By draining lakes and puddles, polder mills have made the Netherlands bigger; the Schermer, Purmer and Beemster (among  others) were created.

During the 17th century all kinds of industrial applications (such as pressing oil, making paint or sawing tree trunks) were added, and the windmill started an enormous advance. Thanks to these industrial mills, areas such as the Zaan region and Amsterdam grew into the first industrial centers of the Netherlands. In 1731, there were over 580 mills in the Zaan region.

After the Second World War, economic and technical developments have brought the vast majority of the last windmills to a halt. Then, fortunately,  the mill protection starts to develop fully. Today, mills are monuments that are protected. And thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, wind and water mills are regularly in operation.

We have different tours that visit these traditional windmills. With our Edam Tour the museum mill in the Schermer, one of the many polders of the Netherlands is visited. But we also offer tours to Kinderdijk and Zaanse Schans.