The History of Anemometers and How They Work

The ability to make wind readings and fully understand weather conditions has been prevalent since ancient times. As a matter of fact, the development of anemometer occurred in the 1400s and the actual design and function of the machine is still very similar to this day. Leon Alberti is credited with the invention of the vital and revolutionary instrument, which continues to be an integral part of meteorology to this day.

Many others followed in Alberti’s footsteps, trying to improve upon the invention including people such as the Mayans and Robert Hooke. However, it was John Robinson who improved the design by attaching four hemispheres to on spokes that rotate in a horizontal axis. The spokes then turned mechanical wheels. In 1926, another John (this time John Patterson) discovered by changing the number of cups to three and improving upon the cup design, the error in the results produced by the anemometer could be greatly reduced. This was the last innovation on the wind-speed only anemometer. In 1991, Derek Weston discovered a way to register wind direction as well, by simply adjusting one cup, the reading variations depended upon whether it faced into or away from the wind. Numerous other developments of the anemometer have occurred since. This includes the development of the sonic anemometer, hot-wire anemometer, and the laser doppler anemometers.

But most notably, the anemometer has been reduced in size to a simple handheld for personal use. Handheld anemometers are utilized by numerous outdoors enthusiast as well as multiple employees in job sectors such as construction, engineering, and the military. The pocket-sized wind measuring tools are mechanical anemometers. They are very simply put, an electricity generator attached to a sealed cylinder with an axle adorned with several cups. In these cups, the wind blows into them and as a result of catching the wind, the generator begins to spin. There are also wind turbine models that work similarly by simply replacing the cups with propellers. The generator is then attached to a circuit that then displays the reading onto the handheld anemometer’s screen. On the other hand, some cupped anemometers do not utilize the electricity generator, but rather count the number of times the blades rotate each second to produce a reading. Regardless, the user has a reading that is accurate within 5% in the palm of their hands. Additionally, handheld anemometers have also been adapted to provide readings besides just wind velocity and direction. Functions include measurements of heat index, temperature, dew point, pressure, humidity levels, and much more. All just within your pocket.

The anemometer is without a doubt an invaluable tool and invention. With the ability to now carry it in our pockets, anemometers have provided invaluable information for individuals such as engineers and construction workers while on the job. But it has also provided safety measures for outdoors enthusiasts such as serious kite flyers, hunters, and wind surfers. The anemometer has come a long way in history, and science will continue to improve it without a doubt.