As the Wind Blows: A Look at Weather Vanes

By: James Hunt

Weather vanes have been capturing the interest and imagination, of both young and old alike, for centuries. Watchful roosters overlooking barns, trotting horses topping elegant homes, these unique little weather devices have a rich history, predating the birth of Christ. But how did they come to be? Who made the first one? Why are they called weather vanes? Join us, as we explore a few fun facts about weather vanes.

The earliest known weather vane dates back to the year 48 B.C., where it adorned the Tower of Winds in Athens. Believed to be more than 4' long, this first weather vane was fashioned in the likeness of the Greek God, Triton, with the head and torso of a man and the body of a fish. Due to the fact that the ancient Greeks and pre-Christian Romans believed that the wind carried divine powers, it was not uncommon to see weather vanes created in the likenesses of Greek gods, such as Hermes, Mercury and Boreas.

Norsemen picked up the idea of the weather vane and began making their own around the 9th century. Unique, to this day, the Vikings created banner-styled weather vanes and commonly placed them on their ships, for navigational purposes, as well as their homes. Usually topped by a favored animal figurine, this weather vane style can still commonly be found in Norway and Sweden. It is also believed that, around this time, the Pope decreed that all churches in Europe display a cock atop their church, as a reminder of Jesus' prophesy that the cock would not crow, the morning after The Last Supper. Ever since, it has been traditional for many churches, both in Europe and America, to display a cock weather vane.

First President, George Washington, commemorated the end of the Revolutionary War by having a special weather vane commissioned for the top of his Mount Vernon estate. Created in the likeness of a dove, carrying an olive branch, or a Dove of Peace, this weather vane was finished in 1787, by Joseph Rakestraw. Even Thomas Jefferson found an interest in weather vanes, supposedly attaching the weather vane, on Monticello, to a pointer inside his house. This way, he was able to determine the direction of the wind, without having to leave the comfort of his home.

During the 1800's, common weather vanes depicted popular racing horses, such as George M. Patchen and Smuggler, their likenesses recreated from the stylish Currier and Ives prints. The artwork of weather vanes has only advanced from there, allowing one's imagination to go wild; elegant silhouettes, fanciful scrolls and arrows, even three-dimensional animal creations. Now expanding with a plethora of different materials, it's a sure bet that whatever one desires in a weather vane; if it hasn't been made yet, there is someone out there ready to give it a whirl.

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