Charles Miller’s Four Blade Turbine of 1926: Indiana’s Contribution to Wind Energy History

By Paul Gipe

Like others of the day, Charles Miller began his career selling bicycles. It was at his bicycle shop in Anderson, Indiana that he developed the technique for vulcanizing rubber tubes and tires that led to his business success and commercial influence. This was a time when there were over 100 factories in Anderson, most in the burgeoning automotive industry.

Miller was an inveterate inventor and the Madison County (Indiana) Historical Society has an exhibit devoted to his work. It was here that I first saw a clipping of his wind turbine.

The November 27, 1926 edition of the Indianapolis Star published a short puff piece on Charles Miller’s innovative machine. The Star predicted that Miller’s wind turbine would eventually make electricity practical on the farm. That did come to pass, but Miller and his company were not the ones to lead the way.

Why Miller wasn’t successful is unknown. Maybe it was his location in Indiana. The more well known and more successful Jacobs brothers started in windy Montana and then moved to Minnesota where they remained much closer to the prairie states where the market was to develop—not in the Midwest. Wincharger and several other manufacturers were located in Iowa in the center of the off-the-grid market that Miller hoped to serve.

The Star’s article is not descriptive of the controls Miller used on his wind turbine, noting only that he regulated the rotor’s speed–an essential aspect of all successful wind turbines.

Nevertheless, we see several significant features that separates Miller’s turbine from others of the day. First, it was very large for an American windcharger. Each blade appears a little more than 10-feet (3-meters) long. This would give the turbine a rotor diameter of 20 feet (6 meters), sweeping 28 square meters of the wind—twice that of the Jacobs windcharger that wouldn’t appear for several more years. Though Miller’s rotor was smaller than what the Danes were building at the time, his rotor was comparable to that being built by Constantin and Darrieus in France, both leaders in developing wind energy technology.

Second, Miller was using four blades downwind of the tower. Most windchargers of the period were using three blades upwind of the tower. Again, Miller had more in common with his French counterparts than with American windchargers. As discussed in my new book Wind Energy for the Rest of Us, Darrieus was building his experimental turbines downwind of the tower.

These observations about Miller and at least one of his wind turbine designs suggest that the history of wind energy in the United States may need to be rewritten. Miller’s contributions, while widely unknown, may have contributed significantly to wind turbine technology in as yet unknown ways.

For more on Miler, see Was Anderson Indiana a Part of Wind Industry History?