The Story Behind Weathervanes

The Story Behind Weathervanes

A weathervane shows the direction from which the wind blows. When mounted on a tall house or barn, it should be able to catch the lightest wind and pivot accurately. It must be perfectly balanced on its rotating axis and have an unequal area on either side of its center for the wind to blow against. Then the larger end of the weathervane can catch the wind and turn the pointer so it lines up with the wind source, either from the north, south, east or west.

Weathervanes in Ancient Greece

 The weathervane has a long cultural history as a weather instrument and ornament. It was an important tool for predicting weather for planting and harvesting purposes back in Ancient Greece. The first documented weathervane dates back to 48 B.C., when it sat atop the Tower of the Winds in Athens. Greek astronomer Andronicus created the bronze weathervane to resemble the Greek God Triton, ruler of the sea, with the body of a fish and a head and torso of a human. The trident in his hand identified the wind’s direction.

The Vikings and Weathervanes

Weathervanes were also popular during the ninth century A.D at the time of the Vikings. These weathervanes had an unusual quadrant shape and were topped with either animals or characters from Norse fables. Later, weathervanes were added to the front of Viking ships and on top of Scandinavian churches as well.

The Pope’s Decree Regarding Weathervanes

Weathervanes have a connection to the Catholic Church in Europe. The Pope decreed churches to have a cockerel on every steeple, which were eventually combined with weathervanes. The decree stemmed from the prophecy that the rooster would not crow on the morning after the Last Supper until Peter had denounced Jesus three times. In 18th and 19th century Europe, weathervane designers began to use wrought-iron instead of copper materials. Common motifs included mythical creatures and animals. These weathervanes are still displayed today in European cities.

Weathervanes Find Their Way to The New World

Colonists brought weathervanes to the New World to help predict the weather. Farmers far from town were not able to see communal weathervanes in town and began to display their own. George Washington, an avid weather follower, had a weathervane installed on the cupola at Mount Vernon. The copper weathervane was shaped like a dove of peace, holding olive branches in its mouth. The original weathervane is still at Mount Vernon, although now it is covered in gold leaf to protect it from the elements.

Today, collectors purchase vintage and antique weathervanes that cost thousands of dollars. In the U.S, people continue to purchase weathervanes and display them proudly. Dress the Yard sells weathervanes created by Amish craftsman and other quality sources. Visit our weathervane section for more information.