Paul La Cour (1846 – 1908)

Paul La Cour was a pioneer in the application of wind-power, a sphere in which Denmark has led Europe in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries.

He was born near Ebeltoft in north-east Jutland, the son of an enterprising farmer. He studied meteorology at the University of Copenhagen before travelling to enlarge his knowledge, and in particular learning of developments in meteorology in the Netherlands. When the Danish Meteorological Institute was established in 1872 he was appointed its deputy director.

From meteorology he turned to telegraphy, and in 1874 took out a patent for the use of a tuning fork in splitting messages. His research paralleled that of Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) and Elisha Gray (1835-1901), but he lacked the resources to contest patent claims in the United States. He made further innovations in telegraphy, in particular the phonic wheel, invented in 1875 and patented in 1877. He became a disciple of the philosopher Nikolaj Frederik Sevrin Grundtvig (1783-1872), recognised as the father of the Danish folk high school movement, and from 1878 worked for most of the rest of his live at the Folk High School founded in 1865 at Askov in South Jutland, a small town which even today has less than 2,000 inhabitants. He taught Mathematics and Physics and published popular textbooks on those subjects as well as on the history of science.

He began research on wind power in the 1890s, was convinced that it should be used to generate electricity, and carried out experiments with chemical means of storing power. In 1902 a windmill at Askov was adapted as a prototype power plant, and generated electricity for the town until 1958.