Dakota Datebook

Wind in North Dakota

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Wind farms are cropping up throughout the state in response to the need for clean energy but the use of wind power to create electricity is nothing new in North Dakota. On this date in 1936, the Napoleon Homestead reported that rural electrification was coming to North Dakota and indeed, in 1937, the Baker Rural Electric Cooperative became the first to electrify their transmission lines. However, it was not the farm electrification program of the New Deal that this newspaper story was referring to, it was the homemade devices that were finding their way to thousands of farms across the state. Wind turbines were making their appearance in rural areas and were used to store the power of the wind in ordinary automobile batteries. These devices were not able to provide the heavy duty needs on a farm but were used to supply power for radios, irons, small machines or a few light bulbs.

The popularity of the devices was based on the accessibility of the parts needed to make them. Old automobile generators were used with most of the early ones coming from Model T Fords. The shafts were attached to homemade blades called “impellers, which were hand carved on the farm. Cables then ran down to a battery and often a series of batteries were used to provide for even better storage Wind mills had long been used to pump water for stock so the use of wind to create energy using the fundamentals of automotive electrical generation was readily accepted by farm families.

Some of these systems remained for many years as rural electrification was slow to advance across North Dakota. Former Governor Allen Olson, who was born in 1938 and grew up on a farm in Cavalier County, recalled that he tried to hook his family’s 32 volt wind plant to his electric train set, but since it was DC current it was very jerky and he couldn’t wait for REA power. Modifications would increase the power and modify the DC current using alternators but the smaller towers could not compete with the steady supply from the REA poles although the units were often retained for an emergency when the poles were down.

After 1937 the Rural Cooperatives began supplying the electrical needs of farm families but prior to that, on the open wind swept prairies of North Dakota with a landscape dotted by old automotive generators elevated thirty feet in the air, you might say- it was rural electrification by Henry Ford.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


Napoleon Homestead March 13, 1936 Page 7.

The Bismarck Tribune February 12, 1974

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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