A: We know weather vanes have been used for over 2,000 years, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. “In 48 B.C., a Greek astronomer constructed a rod to determine which way the wind was blowing,” he explains. “On top of the rod, he placed a bronze figure of a Triton, which was a half-man, half-fish creature, so it would easily indicate which direction the wind was coming from. That probably was the start of placing animals, such as fish or others, on top of weather vanes. We know that weather vanes were used often in the Boston area around the 17th century, and most of these were made of wood, copper or tin. By the 19th century, weather vanes could be seen all over the United States.”
Q: Are any of these early-day weather vanes still in existence?
A: They are, and they are collector’s items, McRoberts adds. “There were at least half a dozen companies making weather vanes in the late 1800s,” he says. “Many were made with patriotic symbols – eagles, the Goddess of Liberty, the Statue of Liberty, even some resembling George Washington. Vanes along coastal towns often had fish or ships as the wind indicator, and by then, most were made from wood and were considered art work. Many farmers made their own. Today, some of these weather vanes are worth as much as $10,000 depending on the quality.”
Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.