Cultural Icons of Wind Turbines—A List that Never Stops Growing

By Paul Gipe

I just added chocolate as a category of subjects that celebrate wind turbines or traditional windmills. Yes, chocolate. I thought “home decor” would be the last category on the topic. I never expected to be writing about table runners or wall paper that featured wind turbines. But the list of categories just won’t stop growing. Now it’s chocolate wind turbines. Who knew there was a demand for chocolate wind turbines? Certainly not those who claim—without proof of course—that windmills cause cancer. Or those who hate wind turbines—seen and unseen.

I don’t know how long I’ve been collecting examples of cultural icons using wind turbines. I know that I had a collection in the early 1990s that I featured in my book Wind Energy Comes of Age. I suspect I began to more assiduously collect items in the mid 1980s after I’d moved to California to work on the wind farms in the Tehachapi Pass. I hardly look for cultural icons now they’ve become so commonplace.

There are now 35 categories from postcards to posters, from beer to wine, from stamps to fingernails on my web site. Yep, fingernails too. All told there are nearly 100 entries. I don’t know exactly in fact. After a point I just stopped counting.

One may well ask: “Why collect them? Why was this important? Is it still important to do so?”

Critics of wind energy first said: “They’ll never work.” When wind turbines did work, they said: “They’ll never be accepted.” Now that they’re accepted, reactionaries are forced to say: “They’re deadly. They cause cancer.” (Of course there’s no more a scientific authority than the soon to be former President of the United States who says so.)

But at one time it wasn’t clear that wind turbines would become part of contemporary culture and that’s why I collected examples—evidence, if you will, of their images gradually being adopted as a symbol of modernity, responsibility, and sustainability.

As I wrote many years ago, “modern wind turbines are becoming an accepted feature of landscapes around the world by a process of cultural assimilation. As wind turbines become a more prevalent feature of today’s landscape, they begin to find their way into common artifacts as symbolic images.”

That process continues today. Collecting images of the plethora of products using modern wind turbines as symbols is now my way of celebrating how much wind energy has indeed come of age.