A paperfolding paradise
The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell
page attempts to record what is known about the origin
and history of folded paper windmills. Please contact me
if you know any of this information is incorrect or if
you have any other information that should be added.
There are (at least) two entirely different folded paper windmill designs. To distinguish between them I call them the Cut Paper Windmill and the Uncut Paper Windmill.
In his article 'History of Origami in the East and the West before Interfusion', published in 'Origami 5: Fifth International Meeting of Origami, Science, Mathematics and Education', Koshiro Hatori asserts that, ''Many of the European origami models contained in Krause-Boelte's book (ie 'The Kindergarten Guide', published in 1881) are not included in contemporary Japanese records. The pig, house, sofa (also known as piano or organ), balloon (waterbomb), arrow (paper plane), salt cellar (cootie catcher), bird (pajarita or cocotte) and windmill ... were all born in Europe and imported into Japan along with the kindergarten system.' An accompanying illustration shows that this statement refers to the uncut design.
There is mention of a paper windmill on page 83 of 'The Mottoes and Commentaries of Friedrich Froebel's Mother Play', published by D Appleton and Company, New York in 1895, which is a rendering into English of a work by Froebel first published in German in 1844. The English text contains the sentence 'Hearing the sound, out runs a little boy with his paper windmill. It turns faster and faster as he increases his speed.' This would seem to be a description of the uncut paper windmill which works much better as an action design than the uncut version.
The list of paper folding designs in the 'Manuel Pratique de Jardins D'Enfants de Friedrich Froebel, which was compiled by J F Jacobs and published in Brussells and Paris in 1859, includes a 'moulin à vent'. From its position in the list it can be inferred that this is the uncut windmill.
'De Kleine Papierwerkers', written by Elise Van Calcar and published by K H Schadd in Amsterdam in 1863, contains a drawing of 'de molen'. This is clearly an uncut paper windmill.
'Froebel's Occupations', written by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibald Smith and published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, of Boston and New York in 1896 includes the observation 'In the firelit winter evenings, before the days of the useful (and ugly) match, our grandmothers folded dainty lamplighters ... and when the pretty work was over, marvellous paper boats and boxes and windmills were fashioned for the expectant audience. Many times in the quiet home-life of the German peasant Froebel ... saw parents and children united in this simple art ...' Unfortunately we cannot know which design of paper windmill is being referred to here.
There are drawings of both kinds of paper windmills in Eleenore Heerwart's 'Course of Paperfolding', published in London in 1895.
Diagrams for the cut paper windmill are included in Paper Magic by Will Blyth, published by C Arthur Pearson in London in 1923.
The uncut version appears in Fun with Paper Folding by Murray and Rigney, published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928.
In her 'Paper Toy Making', published in London by Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons Ltd in 1936, Margaret Campbell included both designs, entitling the uncut version 'Windmill' and the cut version 'Revolving Windmill', presumably because the latter performed better as an action toy.