Frank's Windkessel model described the hemodynamics of the arterial system in terms of resistance and compliance. It explained aortic pressure decay in diastole, but fell short in systole. Therefore characteristic impedance was introduced as a third element of the Windkessel model. Characteristic impedance links the lumped Windkessel to transmission phenomena (e.g., wave travel). Windkessels are used as hydraulic load for isolated hearts and in studies of the entire circulation. Furthermore, they are used to estimate total arterial compliance from pressure and flow; several of these methods are reviewed. Windkessels describe the general features of the input impedance, with physiologically interpretable parameters. Since it is a lumped model it is not suitable for the assessment of spatially distributed phenomena and aspects of wave travel, but it is a simple and fairly accurate approximation of ventricular afterload.