Industrial Windmills at Zaanse Schans

In 17th and 18th century Holland, clusters of industrial windmills appeared by cities. They were always easily accessible over the waters. These industrial windmills manufactured different kinds of products, that nowadays are processed in factories with electronic machinery.

Mainly in the Zaan River area, some 15 miles north west from Amsterdam, there were plenty of industrial windmills. In the 18th century, around 600 of them operated there simultaneously. Throughout the centuries, a total of 1200 industrial windmills were operational in that area. This zone was an important gateway to Amsterdam. It was close by and the Zaan River connected to Amsterdam’s waters. Thus, ground materials could be delivered fast and easily and the finished products could reach the required outlet over the waters smoothly as well.

By the late 16th century, the saw windmill, a good example of an industrial windmill, was invented by a Dutch man, Cornelis Corneliszoon van Uitgeest. By means of a crankshaft, a rotating movement could be converted to an up and down movement. This way huge saws were activated. These worked 30 times faster than human operated saws. The sawn timber beams were used to build houses for a rapidly growing population. They were also used to build ships. At Zaanse Schans, a windmill by the name “Het Jonge Schaap” (the young sheep) is a wonderful model of such saw mills. It is owned today by the Foundation of Zaan River Windmills’ and operated by volunteer millers.

Another kind of industrial windmill was the paint mill. In it, pigments were prepared, to be used as ground material for paint. Old and worn roof tiles were pulverized by its edge mills to obtain a brown-red colored pigment. Lapis Lazuli was ground to get an intense blue color. Before the discovery of the Americas, when Lapis Lazuli was still only imported from Afghanistan, it was worth even more than gold. The use of it by artist painters was a manifest status symbol. Dark green was created from copper alloys. Highly toxic, it possessed exquisite conserving properties. This deep green color therefore was used to paint the wooden houses and protected them from corrosion. Still today, dark green is the traditional color of the area’s timber beamed houses. Windmill “De Kat” (The cat) at Zaanse Schans still produces these mentioned colors in the traditional way. It is the only working paint windmill left in the entire world.

The oil mill pressed oil out of linseed, rapeseed or peanuts. Oil, combined with pigment powders, could be used to produce paint. In other cases, oil was used in the kitchen for cooking and baking and to manufacture soap or varnish. Oil also served as a combustible for oil lamps. At Zaanse Schans, windmill “De Zoeker” (The Seeker) is the only oil mill there that is still in operation today. It was relocated from another place in the Zaan River district to its current location in 1968. The relocation was accomplished in one night. The windmill was even lifted in its entirety over the overhead lines of the railway close by.

“De Huisman” is another industrial windmill at Zaanse Schans. It currently elaborates spices in a traditional way and prepares them for human consumption. The ground material for the spices are dried parts of plants, trees or fruits, derivative from areas with a tropical climate. In medieval times these made their way to Europe already. However, their road was long and insecure. Therefore, they were scarce and costly. In 1602 the Dutch East India Company was founded. It would soon take over the primacy in world trade from Spain and Portugal. The modern vessels that navigated along Dutch controlled routes, would henceforth guarantee a larger supply of pepper, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmegs and other spices. These would add flavor and aroma to the healthy yet simple and tasteless Dutch food. “De Huisman”, by the way, is a windmill with an interesting and varied history. It was built in 1786 and served as a tobacco mill and saw mill. It was placed in its current location in 1955 where it was used as a mustard mill.  In 2010 it underwent a major refurbishment. It now has the 19th century interior of the “Indie’s Welvaren” (India’s Welfare) mill whose name it has adopted. Now, thus, it functions as a spice mill in which spices are ground in the traditional way.

Zaanse Schans was once Europe’s largest and most important industrial area. The foundations for modern industry were laid right there.

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