Sea captains, farmers, anyone working out-of-doors need to know which way the wind is blowing. Many times their lives and the lives of other people depend on a knowledge of which way the wind is blowing.
Probably the first weather vane of any consequence was the bronze figure of Triton, the mythological Greek god of the sea, set atop the Tower of the Winds in Athens, Greece. This gigantic weather vane, with Triton’s three-pronged spear pointing the direction the wind was blowing, was built by Andronicus during the first century B.C.
Viking ships from the ninth century carried a primitive sort of weather vane to help keep them away from the rocky coasts. It was made from a quarter circle of metal that pivoted along one straight edge. This same type of vane was soon seen ashore on top of Scandinavian churches.
About a thousand years ago, iron roosters were mounted on churches throughout Christendom by command of the pope at Rome as a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Christ: “Peter [the Lord said], the cock shall not crow this day, before … thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me.” (Luke 22:34.) However, it is not exactly known when these roosters became weathercocks; but because churches were usually the tallest buildings in the villages, they were the logical place where people could easily see the metal birds.
It didn’t take long to transfer the coats of arms from the pennants and banners carried by the nobility during the Middle Ages to weather vanes fastened to castle turrets. (Bannerets on many churches and mansions today are descendants from such high-flying heraldic insignia.) Then after the Revolutionary War, eagles became very popular subjects for weather vanes. And since that time, Indians, angels, sailing ships, birds, locomotives, wild and domestic animals of all kinds, and countless other objects have been used.
Look at the tops of the churches, buildings, and barns around your town and see how many different types of weather vanes you can find. And when you are at an airport, see if you can find the wind sock or wind sleeve blowing on top of a hanger or the anemometer on top of some building there that tells the speed of the wind.
Four LDS temples were built and topped with weather vanes—Nauvoo, Kirtland, Logan, and St. George.
Before the invention of the barometer, the weather vane was one of the few accurate weather predictors.