The first recorded instance of a metal weathervane was a life-size representation of the Greek god Triton that was placed atop the Tower of the Winds in Athens, Greece, somewhere between 48 B.C. and 250 A.D. (archaeologically dating structures being an inexact science at best.) This vane of Triton represented him traditionally with a human head and upper body and the tail of a fish. He also held a wand in his hand pointing the direction from which the wind blew.
In addition to the Greeks, weathervanes were used by the Romans, the Vikings on their ships, the Scandinavians, and the British. The weathervane is also known to British citizens as the weather cock because in the 9th century, the Pope issued an edict decreeing that the rooster or cockerel symbol was to be erected on top of all churches, as a reminder of Peter’s betrayal of Christ (“before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.” Mark chapter 14 verse 30). This reminder to the faithful to be obedient soon found itself onto weathervanes throughout Europe. Today, a cockerel weathervane dating from 1370 and possibly in fulfillment of the edict can be seen on top of a church in Devon, England.
Weathervane figures have since gone forth and multiplied, with just about all creatures great and small and people, too being represented on them.
In America, the first recorded weathervane maker, Shem Drowne of Boston, began hammering out silhouettes in the early 1700’s. Soon, weathervanes were popping up all over the Colonies. Some famous people from history who jumped on the weathervane bandwagon were: Paul Revere, whose wooden codfish weathervane is on display at his home in Boston; and George Washington, who had a dove of peace created for Mt. Vernon as a commemoration for the end of the Revolutionary War.
Thomas Jefferson, ever the imaginative inventor, had his weathervane connected to a pole that ran through the roof and ceiling of his home at Monticello and ended in a pointer. Thus, he could see which way the wind blew without leaving the comfort of his home.
Weathervanes have now become very hot collectibles.