A "Really HOT" Collectible That's "Really Cool"

As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Summer/Fall 1998

Antique fans, whether they be water, electric or alcohol powered, are excellent examples of the industrial, technological and stylistic advancements of American culture. From early battery-powered fans (such as those seen at the Edison Museum in Fort Myers) to ones that ran on kerosene, fans reflect the ingenuity of people trying to “keep their cool.”

In cities where water was plentiful and free, fans were powered by a stream of water through a hose. Water would turn a small wheel inside the fan that would then spin the blades. Cities eventually banned these fans as they wasted a lot of water.

Alcohol or kerosene was used in a small burner below a piston which would turn the blades of a fan. These were used (and are still used today) where there was no electricity. There was a great debate as to whether fans should be AC (alternating current) or DC (direct current). Some fans ran on either. Some towns would have DC and AC and when you purchased an electrical appliance you had to specify which type you needed.

Gyro ceiling fans looked like two desk fans facing in opposite directions with the whole thing spinning around in the center of the room!

Gyro ceiling fan
Stationary fans were followed by oscillating fans that would stir the air. Manufacturers came up with many different ways of getting a fan to oscillate - vanes, feathers & lollipops, sidewinders, worm gears, C-frames, etc.

As decor changed, so did fans - from elaborate, gilt-decorated cast iron fans of the Victorian era such as Meston’s, to Art Deco inspired, streamlined models with polished aluminum of the 1930s such as Emerson’s Silver Swan. When floor lamps become popular, so did floor fans. Fans were also mounted on the tops of columns or poles, or on the walls and ceilings. Hassock fans that sat in the center of the room and sent cool breezes in every direction became popular in the 1950s.

Floor Fan
Early fans were very expensive in the dollar of those days, sometimes costing several weeks’ salary, but manufacturers soon added less expensive models so every home could have at least one fan. Emerson’s more expensive models came with a 5-year warranty and many of those fans are still running today! Other manufacturers included General Electric, Westinghouse, Robbins & Meyers, Singer, Diehl, Eck, Crocker-Wheeler, Meston, Freshen’d Aire, Colonial, Century, Trojan, Dayton, Menominee, Peerless and approximately 800 others!

Desk fan blades could be made of steel, brass, aluminum, or micarta in sets of 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. Cages could be steel, brass, or aluminum.

Ceiling fans include Emerson’s fern leaf, GE’s oak leaf and grape leaf, Dayton’s ornate, Westinghouse’s sidewinder, Century’s long-nose, and, of course, Hunter, which is still around today.

The American Fan Collectors Association (AFCA) is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of an important part of American history. Examples of these fans can be seen at The Museum of the American Fan Collectors Association, housed in the lobby of Vornado Air Circulation Systems in Andover, Kansas, just outside of Wichita.

Today’s collectibles include ceiling, floor, wall, and desk fans from the 1880s through the 1960s. These fans are collected by AFCA members around the country and the world. There are members in Singapore, Uruguay, England, Canada, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.

Visit the AFCA’s website at http://www.fancollectors.org or contact Nancy J. Taussig, Executive Director, American Fan Collectors Association, P.O. Box 5473, Sarasota, FL 34277 or call 941-388-5513.

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