While doubling as common garden and yard décor, weather or wind vanes have been purposeful spanning back to Ancient Greece. To honor the Greek god Triton, the very first weather vane was placed atop the Tower of the Winds in Athens to show the direction of the wind. The ancients believed in the divine powers of the wind and the earliest weather vanes portrayed various gods as they adorned the homes of wealthy landowners. Bronze weather vanes have also been discovered on Viking ships and Scandinavian churches from the ninth century.
In ninth century A.D., the pope ordered every church in Europe to show a cock on its dome or steeple as a reflection of Jesus’ prophecy of St. Peter’s fall. Since then, “weather cocks” have been a common part of church architecture in both Europe and the United States. Patriotic weather vanes became popular in America during the early 1800s. Later, vanes modeled after famous racehorses gave way to the mass production of many different designs.
The most common type of weather vane is an arrow attached a rotating upright rod. The arrow spins freely when weight is equally distributed on both sides of the rotation axis. This allows the arrow to point into the direction of the wind, with the cardinal points of a compass typically shown on traditional vanes.
Weather vanes should be placed in a high position where trees, buildings or other objects won’t interfere. You will usually find them at the top of towers, roofs or poles. Some gardeners are able to use wind vanes to make simple weather forecasts, but if a modern wind vane doesn’t have the correct weight balance, it does not show and accurate wind direction. Because of this, vanes with complicated or intricate designs are often simply used for decoration.