While technically not a facility, the Heller-Aller windmill at the Henry County Fairgrounds is a source of immense pride for the community of Napoleon and Henry County as a whole. Before the electrification of rural America, probably nothing defined the landscape of the Midwest more than a Heller-Aller windmill, and there was no location in the country that did not have them.
A Henry County firm, the Heller Aller Company founded in 1884, donated a Model 12 windmill to the Henry County Historical Society in 1989. The 12 foot wheel windmill is atop a 35 foot tower of a special pattern originally designed for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It is one of only six made and is an experimental model the Heller Aller Company erected behind their business to test endurance in the elements. In May of 1989, it was relocated to the Henry County Historical site on the Fairgrounds.
The Heller Aller Company in Napoleon, Ohio was a leading manufacturer of deep-well windmills. Starting in business in 1884, it lasted remarkably until 1995 when it was purchased by Hitzer Inc. largely for its patented water pumps. In 1910, an 80 foot windmill kit, tower and blades, cost $355, not counting installation.
From Henry County, Ohio, a 3-volume collection of historical sketches and family histories, compiled by members and friends of the Henry County Historical Society in the early 1970s, the following history of the company was written by local historian, Mary Fran Meekison, p. 252:
Presently, in Napoleon, there are several industries that can claim long, rich histories. For example, in 1884 John A. Mehring founded C. E. Mehring and Co., the predecessor of today’s Brick and Tile Works, owned by Leon Genuit, Edgar Meineke, and Mrs. Paul Genuit.
Another distinguished industry, the Heller-Aller Co., was founded in 1884 by John Aller. Though the company today manufactures pumps, water systems, and other barnyard equipment, the historical focus is on the Baker Windmill. In 1883 Frederick Baker, a Napoleon blacksmith, invented a windmill made of wooden slats or sails. The following year John Aller started producing windmills. In 1886 the world’s first windmill with metal sails was marketed in Napoleon at the firm’s original location along the canal, near the Maumee.
Sometime early in the 1900s fire destroyed the canal-site plant. A new location, consisting of a total city block, running the length of two streets and coming to a point, in downtown Napoleon, became the permanent home of the Heller-Aller Company, which still produces the now famous “Baker” all-metal windmills.
Samuel Heller joined John Aller as partner in 1904. About this time Baker Wind Engines were advertised as “first-class, thorough-going machines, perfectly able to take care of themselves at all times and under any circumstances.” This claim was supported by a request to order a sample mill, giving it a fair test and comparison with other brands, and if not then “satisfied that the BAKER is the best, return it to us at our expense.”
Around 1915 the export trade was so great that the company could report, “Baker Ball Bearing Wind Engines are now doing service in nearly every country in the globe.” In 1921 HellerAller was sold to Fred Ritz and Otto Tietjens. Two years later the BAKER RUN-IN-OIL-Mill was introduced, the improved version of which is still used today.
With the advent of great electric power to rural areas, the need for windmills greatly lessened, reducing the number of windmill manufacturing plants in the U.S. today to three, the Napoleon plant and one each in Oklahoma and Nebraska.
Upon the death of Otto Tietjens, his interest in the firm passed on to his son, Bruce Tietjens. William Selhorst bought Fred Ritz’s interest in 1941. Thus, Tietjens and Selhorst were partners until the retirement of Bruce Tietjens in 1969. He sold out his interest to Brad of Ohio — Mr. James Bradner, Rocky River, Ohio. William Sehorst is the current President; James Bradner is Chairman of the Board.