The wind spinner goes by many names. Spinner, twirler, whirligig, twister, pinwheel etc… Its origins start with the wind mill. That’s a good place to start our discussion.
No one knows who the original inventor of the windmill was. Indications have never been found that wind mills existed in classical Greece or Rome. Evidence shows the first windmills appeared in Persia around 644 BC to raise water. The trail of development to the West starts in Arabia circa 1000 AD. Then through Tibet, China, and finally England in 1150 AD. These early devices were all of the horizontal type. In this type the blades or sails are connected to a vertical shaft. There is no way for it to change direction with the wind. At this point development of the horizontal windmill continued but a new type of device called the post windmill appeared. This is the more traditional one that we are familiar with. Its shaft is horizontal with the ground and is geared to a vertical shaft inside the mill body. Outside on the end of the horizontal shaft is a unit with four sails mounted to it. The angle to the shaft was set to allow the wind to push the sails in one direction causing the shaft to turn. Early windmills of this type allowed the whole mill to rotate about the vertical shaft. Later versions developed that allowed only the top to rotate and with the attachment of a weathervane on the back of the shaft allowed automatic direction.The blades always remained pointed in the wind.
Later in 1756 in what was going to be the early American colonies farmers found more uses for the new fangled windmill device. They found that birds and ground animals had no use for the whirling structures and so ever smaller versions were built just for the purpose of scaring animals. As they got smaller and smaller a new word was coined to describe them – the whirlygig. The word is derived from the verb to whirl. Perhaps it was the misspelling of the word with its similarity to the torture device the whirligig (developed in 1440) that propelled it to popularity. But before you know it a whole plethora of small contraptions appeared. Including things with spinning legs, arms, twirling wheels or spinners, fans that turned fast etc… Many were shaped like hideous animal abominations. With a weathervane tail attached they seemed to be alive. This aspect scared off troublesome birds and animals.
Whirligigs became popular again in the 1930’s. They were a way for farmers to make money during the depression. After a time whirlygigs branched into different kinds of spinning devices. One was the pinwheel with its obvious connection to the original windmills became a landmark child’s toy. The wind twirler came out of this also. This is similar to a vertical wind mill in that a single twisted piece of metal is angled in to the wind. Any small breeze causes it rotate about its axis.
The aviation Wind Sock also developed from the weathervane aspect and is used as a weather instrument. Some credit for the invention of the windsock is given to the Chinese. They flew kites as far back as 500 BC. Some were shaped like socks with an open end.
The wheels or spinners of the whirlygigs shot off a whole other branch called wind spinners. Some are similar to pinwheels or the business end of a windmill with its horizontal shaft. Some are based on the vertical shaft principle and are usually suspended from that vertical shaft which is the axis of rotation.
The vertical shaft wind spinner has the additional benefit of being seen from the side or a normal viewing angle. A single slab of wood or metal turning is satisfying in itself. But, remember the kaleidoscope where rapidly moving pages with coordinated changes in each “frame” created the illusion of movement.
Now imagine a single slab of stainless steel cut into multiple rings inside each other. Then each one individually bent around the axis. All rings equally spaced through a 90 degree arc. Motion of the resulting structure about its axis would also create the illusion of movement of light from the center outward. Thus the stainless steel wind spinner is born.
Today with the advent of precise computer controlled laser cutting machines any design within the limitations of the cutter can be created as a wind spinner. Stainless steel wind spinners cannot rust making them weatherproof and come with there own swivel and are available in a multitude of powder coated colors. Therefore they can be used indoors or out. For indoor use motors are available to rotate them continuously. In the outdoors the wind will turn them. They can be hung from just about anything that gives them room to move.
You, your family, friends, and even pets will spend hours watching the ever changing light patterns.