Weather Vanes: A Brief History

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What Is a Weather Vane?

A weather vane is used to show the direction from which the wind blows. Traditionally, weather vanes are mounted on taller structures including houses and barns. The reason weather vanes are posted in high locations is to prevent interference and to catch the purest breezes.

The key piece of a weather vane is the central pivoting arrow or pointer. The pointer is usually tapered at one end to provide balance and to catch even light winds. The larger end of the pointer acts as a sort of scoop that catches the wind. Once the pointer turns, the larger end will find a balance and line up with the source of the winds.

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Early Weather Vanes

The First Weather Vane Featured a Creature Similar to Triton, the Greek God of the Sea
One of the earliest weather vanes in the first century B.C. featured the Greek God of the sea, Triton with a half human, half fish body. NOAA Photolibrary, Treasures of the Library, Archival Photograph by Mr. Sean Linehan, NOS, NGS

Weather vanes have been used as early as the first century B.C. The earliest weather vane on record was a bronze sculpture built by Andronicus in Athens. The instrument was known as the Tower of the Winds and looked like the Greek God Triton, ruler of the sea. Triton was believed to have the body of a fish and the head and torso of a human. A pointed wand in Triton's hand showed the direction from which the wind was blowing.


The Mountain Weather Journal

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George Washington's Weather Vane

George Washington was a an observer and recorder of weather. He made many notes in his journals, though many would argue that his work was erratic at best. His information on daily weather patterns were not recorded in a scientific and organized manner making the data hard to follow. In addition, many of his observations were subjective and not taken with instrumentation, which was readily available by this time. Yet his legend continues as tales of the harsh winter in Valley Forge have become a part of the living history of George Washington.

George Washington's weather vane, located at the cupola on Mount Vernon, was one of his favorite instruments. The weather vane was made of copper in the shape of a dove of peace, complete with olive branches in its mouth. Today, the vane still sits at Mount Vernon, but is covered in gold leaf to protect it from the elements.

Resources & Links:
The Diaries of George Washington