Step inside the modest, one-story structure on Central Avenue in Nebraska City and you will enter a world that few have experienced; the manufacture of windmills as tools of modern technology circa 1902.
As you enter you can almost sense the heat of the forge, feel the rumbling from vibrations of the huge overhead machines and hear hammer meeting metal in the fabrication area.The museum has been described as a time capsule of early 20th Century shop-type manufacturing.
Everyday things such as ledger books on shelves, telephone, pencils and pens on the desk, even an overcoat on a hook remain where they were last used. The building appears much as it did in the 1930’s when invoices were written by hand, correspondence was typed on a manual typewriter machine and even local phone calls were be placed through an operator.
The less than 1,000 windmills produced at Kregel over a 112-year period were basically the same. The customer could choose the size and the height of the wheel, but the rest of the machine was fairly standard. That is not to say that the Kregels didn’t change with the times. They also ran a retail store for water supply equipment, a well service business and an office to serve all three. After the windmill business declined, they moved to machine service and repair.
Manufactured under the brand name “Eli,” the origin of the name “ELI” comes from the fact that George Kregel had a friend who was a preacher and he was named “ELI”. George named his windmills as an homage to his friend that passed away. “ELI” windmills were unique in their design. They were direct-stroke machines; one revolution of wheel produced one stroke of the pump. There were no gears in the Eli. Advertisements from the period tout the “ELI” windmill as being self-oiling with a ball bearing turn swivel. “Be sure you know the Eli, before you buy,” the ad warns. The galvanized angle steel towers came in 1-foot increments up to 60 feet tall.
The windmills produced in this factory were pioneers in the use of renewable natural power of the wind. Fresh water for home consumption, livestock watering, and garden irrigation was produced without the use of fossil fuels.
Hard Work and Innovative Thinking
Innovation, resourcefulness, hard work and thrift have always been good business practices. For 112 years, the Kregels weathered good times and bad through application of those same philosophies. Equipment was modified and lines of goods were abandoned when customers’ needs changed.
There was no distribution system or sales staff in the Kregel organization. They sold only to individuals. Therefore, most Eli windmills are found in the southeastern Nebraska area. A few have been located in western Nebraska and others in western Iowa and northeastern Kansas.
During the 1940’s, when raw materials became scarce due to the involvement of the United States in World War II, the Kregels ceased the manufacture of windmills. They turned instead to water well maintenance and pump repairs.
After 112 Years
The Factory closed in 1991 following the passing of founder George Kregel’s son Arthur. In 1993, heirs of the Kregel estate donated the factory and its contents to the Kregel Windmill Museum. This 501(c)(3) nonprofit museum preserves the historic factory as a museum for the public; and is not government owned or operated. Come experience a step back in time in the world of machine manufacturing.
The mission of the Kregel Windmill Factory Museum is to use the unique resources of this historic factory and its contents to provide a tangible way for visitors to understand how Americans throughout the years have used innovation, resourcefulness, hard work and thrift to live successfully through changing times. The factory demonstrates how Americans have used and continue to use the renewable power of the wind to enhance the quality of human life. EIN: 20-8943847
“Preserving Industrial Innovation, Experience What Made America Great.”