Why Does The Netherlands Have So Many Windmills?

March 23, 2021

When I was younger, I used to drive around with my parents visiting family members all over The Netherlands. I remember looking outside of the window staring at all the flat grasslands. We used to make it a game how many windmills we would count on our trips. Once we started counting, we realized there were so much more windmills than we thought there would be. Naturally, raising the question "why does the Netherlands have so many windmills?".

Since the Netherlands is below sea level by 26%, the Dutch used windmills to control the groundwater level. Due to the strong winds in the Netherlands, windmills were used for many tasks, such as sawing wood, grinding grains, making paper, squeezing seeds for oil, and helping to reclaim land.

Counting windmills was a great way to pass the time when we were on the road but realizing that the windmills were converting wind into usable energy was a great eye-opener. But don’t forget that one of the big advantages of using windmills is that their production is retrieved from an inexhaustible source, also known as wind. Luckily for us, the Netherlands is also known for its limitless winds.

Why Does The Netherlands Have Windmills?

The invention of wind energy, together with the unlimited amount of wind in The Netherlands, quickly became an indispensable way for the dutch people to create energy, food and transport water from one place to another. The only thing needed was a generator that could convert the wind energy into usable mechanical energy. This was when the idea of windmills came into the picture. 

History questions whether the idea of windmills in the Netherlands came from China or their southern neighbors, also known as Belgium. In the end, it doesn’t really matter where the idea came from. What it was and still is used for, is more important. Windmills were built in different ways for different purposes but always include rotor blades to catch the wind. 

In the 13th century, the first windmills were built in the Netherlands to grind grain to make bread. Apart from windmills being useful for grinding grain, they became more and more indispensable for the agriculture industry. The first windmills were made out of recycled material, mostly wood.

The Netherlands has over 1100 windmills

And another 100 watermills

The windmills were also a big help because they were able to take part in the heavy labor. Therefore it soon became a popular machine that popped up in more places in The Netherlands and expanded its functionality. From sawing wood to grinding grain, squeezing out the oil of oil-containing seeds, and grinding malt to make beer. Later around the 18th century, they also became useful for making paper and paint. 

Around the 15th century, windmills were also made for the creation of landmass. As the Netherlands is below sea level for 26% the Dutch needed to pump water out of the ground to gain more landmass. The windmills were used to pump up water and then transport the water to a different place. The Netherlands has over 4000 polders, some of them created by traditional windmills. Nowadays, it is mostly regulated by electric pumps. 

The windmills were also used to keep a constant groundwater level by pumping up water and transporting it to various creeks. This helped farmers add water to their grass fields in times of drought. During times of rain, their fields often overflowed with water.

To get rid of the high amount of water, they could turn on the windmills setting the blades so that they could catch the most amount of wind. The force collected from the wind would convert into the energy needed for the pumps to pump the water out of the fields.

Windmills have been proven to be very useful in the Netherlands and this is the reason why the Netherlands has so many windmills. Besides being very practical in the above-mentioned methods. In modern life, they might be most renowned for their climate-friendly way of producing energy.

Are Windmills Still Used in Holland?

Although you can still see traditional windmills in The Netherlands, (unfortunately) technology has caught up, and many of them are not in use anymore. They either have deteriorated over time or are currently seen as cultural artifacts. 

Why does the Netherlands grow tulips - Tulip fields

The Netherlands likes to share its history and is proud of its windmills. That is why there is a foundation in the Netherlands that specializes in the maintenance of traditional windmills, this foundation is named "Het Gilde van Vrijwillige Molenaars". Because of this voluntary organization, it is possible to visit more and more operating windmills all over the Netherlands. 

The perks of having more operating traditional windmills are that you can experience firsthand what it was like when windmills were still used throughout the country.

The top 3 operating windmills in the Netherlands:

  1. Zuidermolen, located in: Alphen aan de Rijn
  2. De Vlijt, located in: Wageningen
  3. Molen de Krijgsman, located in: Oosterblokker

In these windmills, you will find freshly baked bread from homemade traditionally ground grain.

The use of modern-day windmills in Holland:

Technology has changed dramatically in the past 100 years. With the quick change of technology, the traditional windmills became redundant. On the other hand, the wind is still a never-ending factor in The Netherlands. Therefore they have built new modern windmills, also known as wind turbines or wind generators. The wind turbines were developed to reduce the import of gas and electricity to the Netherlands. Wind turbines are seen as the most cost-efficient way to produce green energy.

It is not hard to spot the modern-day windmills with their average height of 75 meters (246 feet). Apart from seeing them on land, there are also windmill parks in the sea. Naturally, having more wind at sea than on land will automatically mean that wind turbines can catch more wind and therefore be able to convert the most energy.

Like with most things, there is also a downside to these modern machines. Some Dutch people aren’t thrilled with the new wind turbines as they take up lots of space and they are situated in open places causing damage to the environment and animals.

Why The Netherlands Is So Windy - pic #4

Where Can You See Traditional Windmills in The Netherlands?

Windmills are of course a symbol of the Netherlands for a reason. The Netherlands has many of them, and these attract tourists from all over the world. Although this article is about "why does the Netherlands have so many windmills", we would like to briefly tell you where you can see these beautiful pieces of history. Below are three places in the Netherlands where you can best view the traditional windmills.

Kinderdijk, The Netherlands:

One of the main places to see windmills is in the village of Kinderdijk. Kinderdijk has 19 windmills, and they are all located close enough to one another so that they can be visited in one day. The small town in the South of the Netherlands mainly uses windmills for the transportation of water. This village one of the most popular places to see windmills in the Netherlands and is accessible by public transport. 

Zaanse Schans, The Netherlands:

Another place to visit would be the Zaanse Schans, which only takes a quick train ride from Amsterdam to take you there. Here you can visit thirteen traditional windmills. The Zaanse Schans is a good place if you are looking to see various types of windmills. You will find woodcutting mills, grain- grinding- mills, Oil-Mills, Paper-Mills, Peeling-Mills, Sharpening- Mills, Paint- Mills, and last but not least, Spice- Mills. Together with Kinderdijk, Zaanse Schans is probably the most known place to see traditional windmills in the Netherlands.

Haarlem, The Netherlands:

If you are not only looking to visit a windmill from the outside but also want to take a look on the inside, Haarlem would be your place to be. After restoring the original 18th-century windmill, it is a famous museum that exhibits Dutch history. Apart from the recognizable windmill, Haarlem is also known for its cozy city, having lots of small streets, shops, and local produce. Haarlem is also the capital of the Dutch province Noord-Holland.

Kinderdijk, The Netherlands:

Types of Windmills in Holland

If you were to drive through all of the Netherlands, you should be able to count approximately 1100 traditional windmills. Like I mentioned above, if you want to see the most windmills in the smallest area, Kinderdijk would be the place to go. 

There are five different types of windmills in Holland which are all created for different purposes. Down below you can see the different types of windmills the Netherlands has used in the past, and still uses some of them.

 The “Polder Molen”

Used to keep groundwater levels balanced.

The “Koren Molen”

Used to grind grains for making bread.

 The “Industrie Molen”

Used for industrial purposes like sawing wood, Squeezing oil out of seeds, making paper or paint, peel rice, etc.

The “Wind Molen”

Used to collect as much wind as possible to convert it into usable energy. This energy is then used for homes, companies, etc. 

 The “Water Molen”

This is a different kind of mill. The water mill is not powered by wind but by using running water.

Modern Windturbines

Because wind turbines are important in Holland, they grow each year exponentially. In 2019 there were over 2031 wind turbines. It is hard to say what the total amount of turbines are in the Netherlands at the moment. The idea of the government was to have enough energy for 60% of Dutch homes by 2020. The highest number of closely located wind turbines is in Flevoland, situated in the middle of the Netherlands. 

Conclusion

I hoped you enjoyed reading this article and that you now know why there are so many windmills in the Netherlands. After reading this blog post you most likely have a better insight into the different types of windmills, their functions, and what the best places are to visit them. 

Without wind, the windmills wouldn’t be useful. Are you interested in why the Netherlands is so windy? You can read more about this topic in this post.

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Written by

Leo van den Berg
As a Dutchman I am extremely proud of the beautiful country in which I live. My goal is to convey my passion and love for the Netherlands to as many people as possible.

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