The history of ceiling fans from palm frond to the contemporary fan

Believe it or not, ceiling fans actually date back to at least the times of Cleopatra. Actually, probably as long as man has been around, there were most likely ceiling fans in some form or another. And, you might stop me there to say that there was no electricity, so there could be no fans. Well, you would be half right. There were no electric fans, but there were definitely palm frond fans. In truth, all that has changed is the power source from human-driven to electricity. Of course, the designs have changed, too, but that is to be expected, given the fact that leaves are not used in North America and colder climates.

Palm trees were conducive to making ceiling fans since the leaves are durable, large and have individual sections through which the air can circulate. The leaves are called fronds and are found in two shapes such as feather and fan. Today, you will find many resort areas duplicating the look of palm fronds, cleverly disguised in modern ceiling fans. A few examples are the Casa Jamaica Ceiling Fan, the Emerson Maui Bay Ceiling Fan, and the Monte Carlo Tropical Style.

Historically, it was quite common to see servants holding the long tails of the leaves fanning royalty. If you look at pictures from the Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, and Ancient Egypt, fans of all designs, shapes and colors will be prevalent in the photos. In seventeenth century India, this style of fan was called a “punkah”.

Philip Diehl is credited with creating the first ceiling fan out of a fan blade and sewing machine motor. That was back in 1882, and in 1887, he patented his invention. He did not stop there, but continued to add a light fixture and then a ball joint that was split so that the fan could oscillate. Once that was in place, the idea was extrapolated upon and improvised to perfect the modern day fan, both personal fans and ceiling fans.

As time passed, however, and individuals began to experiment, discover and invent other sources of power, turbine, steam and water were used to run the new fans. Typically, these types of fans were used in commercial settings like large department stores and restaurants. The whole system worked off a network of belts. Many pictures and written stories exist where these types of fans were commonplace before air conditioning and even before electricity was in full use.

Today, Hunter fans are well-known, but many people do not realize that the company goes back well over a hundred years and that the owners were instrumental in changing how fans worked. The father and son team created a ceiling fan with whirling blades that was water-powered and belt-driven. You have to remember that in that age, people typically used electricity to power lights only. It wasn’t thought of to use it for anything else. Eventually, Schuyler Skaats created a commercial version of the table fan. It wasn’t until the 1920s, however, that fans were made available to use in homes. By the late 1920s, fans were being produced on-mass to meet the demand.

One fact that was prominent in the early stages of the fans in homes is that they were not safe at all. Thus, they were typically only found in mansions and estates where the ceilings were high up and the fans out of reach. By the time of the Second World War, though, many people were making enough money that they could afford both the purchase of the fan, as well as the cost of the electricity to run it. Later, as air conditioning became commonplace,  fans started to lose their luster and appeal. But, as the energy crisis of the 1970s loomed, people had to cut back on expenses and fans become in-vogue again.

Today, of course, the modern ceiling fan is used in conjunction with air conditioning units and is just as popular now as the A/C. Plus, modern fans must comply with heavy safety regulations and energy efficiency rules before they can be certified for sale.

One thought on “The history of ceiling fans from palm frond to the contemporary fan

  1. Can you give me statics about how ceiling fans can lower room temptures? Reduce electrical loads? And how they effect the body with the air movement/flow?

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