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People used wind energy to propel boats along the Nile River as early as 5,000 BC. By 200 BC, simple wind-powered water pumps were used in China, and windmills with woven-reed blades were grinding grain in Persia and the Middle East.
New ways to use wind energy eventually spread around the world. By the 11th century, people in the Middle East were using wind pumps and windmills extensively for food production. Merchants and the Crusaders brought wind technology to Europe. The Dutch developed large windpumps to drain lakes and marshes in the Rhine River Delta. Immigrants from Europe eventually took wind energy technology to the Western Hemisphere.
American colonists used windmills to grind grain, to pump water, and to cut wood at sawmills. Homesteaders and ranchers installed thousands of wind pumps as they settled the western United States. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, small wind-electric generators (wind turbines) were also widely used.
The number of wind pumps and wind turbines declined as rural electrification programs in the 1930’s extended power lines to most farms and ranches across the country. However, some ranches still use wind pumps to supply water for livestock. Small wind turbines are becoming more common again, mainly to supply electricity in remote and rural areas.