History of Ceiling Fans and Their Evolution across Time


The ceiling fan is one of the most widely used and popular domestic appliances, but little do we know about its fascinating history. From the time of its inception to the modern day, the ceiling fan has gone through various stages of evolution.

The concept of the fan first originated around 4,000 BC with ‘hand-fans.’ Pictorial records suggest that hand fans fashioned out of palm leaves were quite popular in ancient Egypt and India. Contrary to this, the Romans used hand fans made out of peacock feathers. These hand fans were a luxury of only the wealthy and the rich, and servants manually operated them.

In the far east, in China and Japan, the ‘pien-mien’ or the folding style fan was the trend. The first manually operated rotary fan is said to have been crafted by Ding Huan, the engineer of the Han Dynasty of China around 180 CE. This fan had on seven wheels, and each of them had a diameter of 10 feet.

The folding style fan started to make its way in Europe during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. They were brought into the continent by European traders and soon, this style of fan became a favorite of the upper classes, that is, the nobility and the Royalty. They treated it more as a status symbol and hence, these folding fans were very ornamental and fashionable. Their frames would often be carved out of precious materials such as ivory, tortoiseshell, and mother of pearl. Also, they would be adorned with embellishments of gold or silver.

In the nineteenth century, the concept of fan took an entirely different turn. It no longer remained a manually operated device but became an electrically powered machine. In 1882, the electric fan with two blades was invented by Schuyler Skaats Wheeler. It had no protective outer cage. His invention was marketed and made popular by the Crocker & Curtis Electric Motor Co. That very year, the electrical ceiling fan was born. Philip H. Diehl attached blades to the electric motor of a Singer sewing machine and mounted it to the ceiling, thus, giving to the world, the first ceiling fan. In the process of continually modifying the ceiling fan, Diehl experimented by attaching a light unit to the motor housing of the fan. That is how the ceiling fan with light came to be. Not stopping there, Diehl’s company, Diehl, and Co. included a split-ball joint in their electric fan model which became the inspiration behind the first oscillating fan.

During the initial years of development, the design of electric fans was plain and simple – propeller blades attached to the shaft of an electric motor. These motors were bipolar and functioned on direct current. The fans had no outer casing, and thus, the parts remained exposed. Speed control in these early fan models was achieved using resistance (resistance wire or light bulb).

When Tesla’s theory of Alternating Current (AC) came to the scene, fans began to be based on AC principle. As the years went by, ceiling fans underwent several modifications. Around 1890’s, fan manufacturers produced more inclusive designs. The fans then came with an outer frame and motor casings. Unlike the early models, these newer ceiling fans that operated on AC used induction to regulate the fan speed. Then came the first oscillating fans during the 1900s. While the initial models were wind-powered after 1904, significant progress was made, and mechanical oscillating fans appeared in the market.

With the help of constant technological advancements, ceiling fans had become much less noisy and quiet during operation which made them an ideal choice for households. By 1920, ceiling fans had become the most popular domestic appliance in the US. Gradually, they made their way into the markets in other parts of the world.

Today, ceiling fans are available in so many styles, colors, and varieties. From mini and small ceiling fans to standard and large ceiling fans; from designer ceiling fans to false ceiling fans, you have it all! This has all been possible after years of R&D, and with the advent of smart technology, ceiling fans have become much more energy efficient than ever.


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