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06/29/13

Photo of Jacobs Wind Turbines by Paul Gipe

One of the most storied names in the American development of wind energy is Jacobs Wind Electric.

Developed by two brothers from the plains of Montana in the 1930s and 1940s, Jacobs Wind Electric grew with the boom in remote power systems that was the bringing the wonders of electricity to remote homesteaders across the Great Plains of Canada and the US.

The hallmark of the Jacobs’ design was its ruggedness. It was sold, heavy, and durable.

During the wind power revival of the 1970s, the Jacobs turbines were the most sought after. There were teams of salvage operators scouring the barns and abandoned buildings on the Great Plains searching for Jacobs generators at the time. I was one of them. While we also collected other brands, it was the Jacobs turbines that was—by far--the most valuable.

Characteristically, it used three wooden blades with at first a fly-ball governor and later—in a great technological advancement for the day—blade-activated governor. And unlike its competitors, the tail vane was fail safe. If the tail vane winch failed, the spring-loaded tail vane would furl, bringing the rotor out of the wind.

Many different version were introduced, culminating in a 120-volt, 3 kW unit that was a massive machine of copper and steel.

In the late 1970s, Marcellus Jacobs, the surviving brother of the pair, returned from his Florida retirement to resurrect the company.

Jacobs was notoriously curmudgeonly and not at all inclined to work with the young whippersnappers who then dominated the business.

The “new” Jacobs, to distinguish it from the Jacobs design of lore, was an ungainly design that looks like it came directly from a 1930s machine shop, which it did. Many manufacturers of small turbines could use a good industrial designer and Jacobs would have been wise to use one when he introduced the “new” Jacobs.

In 1985 there were 412 “new” Jacobs installed in California and a much smaller group of machines on Hawaii’s Big Island. There are some original components from this period still available and some extremely well worn turbines from the products heyday in the mid 1980s.

 

 


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