August 16, 2022

Daniel Halladay – The Remarkable Connecticut Inventor I’ll Bet You Never Heard Of…

For sure Daniel Halladay wasn’t dressed this finely when in his 20’s he was tinkering with what would become the Halladay Self-Governing Wind Machine

Hardly a month ago The New London Day reported how U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had come to the area to preach the importance of building wind turbines practically off our shore. In Block Island Sound, specifically.

In fact, Salazar said the federal government was seeking proposals to develop energy farms out there—energy from wind turbines positioned in the waves quite far out, but within sight of our beaches.

Wind turbines are a hot subject. As we know, they are being built off the coast of Cape Cod right now, despite the all-out fight put up by Sen. Ted Kennedy. He thought they spoiled the view. And spoiled his sailing, I suspect, though that’s hard to believe. Futile fight, I’m glad to say.

I love the Cape, too. But I think the turbines are a smart idea and will be a pretty sight in the distant water.

I love the idea of wind farms. I’ve seen them—big spreads dotted with hundreds of tall turbines—in the West. I think of all the electricity they are producing for us and rejoice.

In fact, I think the turbines are not only beautiful. I consider them a monument to the ingenuity of man.

Reading that story in The Day, suddenly I found myself thinking of Daniel Halladay. I had read about him. He was an inventor right here in Connecticut 150 years ago.

If we have those fine wind turbines today, it’s because of the revolutionary windmill he invented–the windmill that dramatically changed life on farms and ranches in the Midwest and West for the better. In fact, all over the country.

In tiny Ellington up in Tolland County, he developed the machine that became sensational for pumping water. It made possible serious, extensive farming. And raising livestock for commercial sale. In time it got to be used for other purposes also. Farmers and ranchers everywhere put one up.

I’m positive you’re familiar with this windmill. They are an iconic part of the countryside out there. We’ve all seen them in the movies and TV and books and, for many of us, right out of our car window.

There are still many around, smoothly and steadily working.  Still being manufactured. I’ll bet there are still some in Connecticut. In other parts of the world, less developed, they are still common every-day machines.

Well, Daniel Halladay was the Henry Ford of that industry. He developed the machine, manufactured them, and sold them. Made possible the development of all that land. He had little idea what a huge impact his windmill would have when he rolled up his sleeves and went to work on it.

His machine worked fine. So efficient that it worked even in light winds.

Needed no expensive fuel—just some wind. It was affordable. Lasted for years. Needed no tending. It was self-governing! A man could go about his ordinary work with hardly a worry about it. And so adaptable to various purposes. What an amazing machine. Revolutionary.

This water pump was a key invention in the development of that huge chunk of the country. As important as the invention of barbed wire, which made it possible for a man to have a real ranch.

Daniel Halladay was a mechanic. He was born in Vermont, worked in other states, eventually settled in Ellington. A friend, John Burnham, repaired water pumps. The two talked a lot. Burnham gets the credit for suggesting using the wind to power a pump of some kind. But how to do that? Halladay began thinking and tinkering.

In time he developed the concept: a structure with a wind machine at the top. Connected somehow to a pump. Wood was the only material. So wood it would be for 95 percent of it. Not only the tower (it had to be tall for better wind), but also even the vanes at the top. Just a few key parts were iron and steel.

There were few investment bankers back then. He had to finance his project himself as he developed it. And safe to say that he had to squeeze time h from his bread-and-butter to devote to his newfangled machine.

He worked there in Ellington from 1954 to 1963. That’s when he worked all his basic ideas and started making and selling windmills.

Of course, windmills have been doing work for mankind for centuries. People built windmills in many countries. Often they were massive. They used sails to catch the wind, like the sails on a sailboat.

They were great machines in their own right. We’ve all seen paintings and pictures of them. But they took terrific human labor to operate. For one thing, somebody had to be on hand to shift them to face the wind whenever it changed direction. And to take down the sails when the wind got too strong. The machines needed lots of fixing. They were expensive to build. Each one seemed to be one of a kind.

It’s a fact that the Dutch brought windmill technology to America. Right here in our state, when they found their way up what is now our Connecticut River and set up in what now is Hartford.

And even more so when they established a bigger and more permanent settlement for themselves at the foot of the river that they named for their captain. I’m talking of New York City and the Hudson River.

Halladay faced numerous challenges. How to make his windmill simpler? Easier to run? Affordable?

He came up with one clever idea after another. He abandoned the idea of sails in favor of vanes.

He fabricated a “rudder”—a tail, so to speak. As the wind shifted direction, it kept the mill pointed right into it.

Before long he conceived a governor that adjusted the mill’s speed automatically—no danger of spinning out of control and destroying itself. He made it more and more efficient. So good that the windmill could run itself.

And he perfected the pump that would suck up the water, and how the energy should be transferred from the spinning vanes at the top down to the pump.

With the mass-production of steel, Halladay began using that instead of wood. I have seen many steel ones. Never a wooden one.

And it took less steel than wood to erect a strong, long-lasting tower.

And with more efficient production, the price got more reasonable.

Through ingenious and trouble-free linkage, his windmill—“weather vane” became the popular word–sucked the water up, hour after hour, day after day.

That was the main purpose. To provide water for livestock and crops. And very soon, water to refill the steam trains at key stations. Imaginative people put them to work as gristmills for processing grains and cereals, plus other jobs, including some industrial uses.

Burnham, Halladay’s buddy, was a great salesman. He became Halladay’s essential helpmate. They became a team. At first, sales were few.

A big problem was that Connecticut was far from where the new windmills were most useful—the Midwest and beyond. They shifted their operation to Chicago, and eventually Batavia, Illinois. Plunk in the middle of the market! The business became a great success and at its height kept many people working.

Of course, other inventors came up with refinements. Competition grew. Every farmer just had to own one. It was that essential. The human labor that it saved was incalculable.

They say that the greatest labor-saving device in the American home today is the washing machine—first for clothes, second for dishes. Back on the farm and the ranch at that time, it was Halladay’s windmill.

Then came the internal combustion engine.  And the electric generator. In came the Modern Age.

True to his nature, Halladay kept moving. He finished his days in Santa Ana, California, just south of Los Angeles. Many of his windmills got set up in that state.

But I’m glad that he spent his key creative years right here in Connecticut. It’s a pleasure to claim him as one of our greats.

With the development of electricity, people saw that windmills could generate that, too. They adapted Halladay’s machine to do that. Even today some homes way out there beyond utility poles use windmills—small, sophisticated ones–to produce their daily electricity.

Modern windfarm out West. Think of the kilowatts being generated. Salt-water windfarms are entirely feasible. Turbines can be set up in different patterns, of course. Farther apart, for instance.

Then came the marvelous wind turbines of today. All inspired by Halladay’s machine. There will be many more of them.

We should have a great big statue of Halladay here in Connecticut. Up in Ellington certainly. And maybe in Hartford where it would get greater attention. With a plaque on it explaining his giant achievement and his connection with the dramatic events of today.

I agree with what Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came here to preach to us.

The demand for electricity has never been greater. Who ever thought of  $4 gasoline? The electric power companies cannot keep up with demand—they keep reminding us to conserve, conserve! We need to put to work every proven energy-making idea we can think of that is safe.

I think Daniel Halladay—and his buddy John Burnham—would be beside themselves with delight to behold a modern windfarm. Yes, wind turbines even being erected in our coastal waters. How incredible! For a purpose they never envisaged—to harvest the wind to provide ample electricity for all our needs. Electricity—a strange energy they had no idea of when they started out.

No wonder I’d love to see wind turbines off Old Saybrook.

Hey, off the California coast and along the Gulf Coast I’ve seen those big platforms out on the water drilling for oil. I approve. What would we do without them?