The windmill and the neighborhood of Mishkenot Sha'ananim were both funded by the British Jewish banker and philanthropist Moses Montefiore, who devoted his life to promoting industry, education and health in the Land of Israel. Montefiore built the windmill with funding from the estate of an American Jew, Judah Touro, who appointed Montefiore executor of his will. Montefiore mentions the windmill in his diaries (1875), noting that he had built it 18 years earlier on the estate of Kerem-Moshe-ve-Yehoodit (lit. "the orchard of Moses and Judith"), and that it had since been joined by two other windmills nearby, owned by Greeks. The project, bearing the hallmarks of nineteenth-century artisan revival, aimed to promote productive enterprise in the yishuv.
walls were 3 feet (0.91 m) thick at the base and almost 50 feet (15.24 m) high. Parts were shipped to Jaffa, where there were no suitable facilities for landing the heavy machinery. Transport of the machinery to Jerusalem had to be carried out by camel. In its original form, the mill had a Kentish-style cap and four patent sails. It was turned to face into the wind by a fantail. The mill drove two pairs of millstones, flour dressers, wheat cleaners and other machinery.
The mill as it appeared with decorative, non-functional sails and bronze cap prior to the 2012 restoration
The construction of the mill was part of a broader program to enable the Jews of Palestine to become self-supporting. Montefiore also built a printing press and a textile factory, and helped to finance several agricultural colonies. He attempted to acquire land for Jewish cultivation, but was hampered by Ottoman restrictions on land sale to non-Muslims.
The mill was not a success due to a lack of wind. Wind conditions in Jerusalem could not guarantee its continued operation. There were probably no more than 20 days a year with strong enough breezes. Another reason for the mill's failure was technological. The machinery was designed for soft European wheat, which required less wind power than the local wheat. Nevertheless, the mill operated for nearly two decades until the first steam-powered mill was completed in Jerusalem in 1878.
In the late 19th century the mill became neglected and abandoned and it was not until the 1930s that it was cosmetically restored by BritishMandate authorities together with the Pro-Jerusalem Society. During this restoration decorative, non-functional fixed sails were placed at the top of the structure. Over the years the building's condition had deteriorated again and following the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War another cosmetic restoration was carried out, as part of which a decorative bronze cap was also added to the structure. In 2012 these decorative elements were removed and the mill was completely restored to full working order using the original 1850 plans (which were located in the British Library) as a guide.
Blowing up of the windmill by the British in 1948