Who invented The Fan? (Invention Timeline Explained)

One of the amazing things about even the most mundane of inventions is that everything has a history. For example, when you’re looking at an electric fan — or any rendition of a fan in today’s day and age — have you ever thought about how it ended up being that way? History has a way of surprising us, especially when it comes to the topic of inventions.

Every invention has a storied history, and the fan is definitely no exception. The electric fan isn’t the kind of invention to be taken lightly, as it’s one of modern tech’s most convenient and straightforward inventions. If you’re interested in a little history lesson, let’s dive into the fan’s invention and evolution over the years.

Who invented the fan?

The modern fan got its start when Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler invented the electric fan. It was a two-blade personal fan that was instantly a hit due to the hot summers finally having something to help ease the heat. The fan was still pretty dangerous, as this rendition didn’t have a cage!

The fan’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Romans, Greeks, and Etruscans
    Earliest records of the ancient fan

    Ancient fans can be dated as far back as 3000 BC, though the Romans, Greeks, and Etruscans would be known to use fans as cooling devices. Naturally, the lack of electricity means the electric fan was still a ways off. 

  • Japanese
    Using the fan as symbols of myth

    Japan would make use of the ancient fan, though instead of cooling devices, it was used more as a symbol of authority and myth.

  • China
    Inventors of the rotary fan

    In 180 AD, Ding Huan invented the rotary fan, though it still had to be operated by a person. During the Tang Dynasty, developments were made to push for hydraulic power.

  • Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler
    Created the first electric fan

    Fast-forward to 1886, and Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler invented the very first electric fan. Made of brass and DC-powered, the electric fan quickly picked up steam.

  • Philip Dehli
    Inventor of the electric ceiling fan

    With Dr. Shuyler Skaats Wheeler setting the groundwork, it was only a matter of time before the electric ceiling fan was invented.

When was the fan invented?

The very first electric fan was invented in 1886, the brainchild of Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler.

A brief history of the fan

While it might seem like the fan isn’t too interesting, it has quite the storied history! The use of the fan as a cooling device was prevalent with the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and the Etruscans. The Japanese, in particular, had a habit of using fans as a symbol of power, myth, and authority. There were various uses for that fan, and it was often seen as a work of art.

That said, the time when the modern fan saw its beginnings started with the Han Dynasty. In 180 AD, Ding Huan invented the rotary fan, though it still had to be operated by a single person. It was a good start, though there needed to be more advancements to break new ground. During the Tang Dynasty, the Chinese learned how to use hydraulic energy. It eventually led to the development of steam-powered fans, which in turn laid the groundwork for something far more advanced and accessible.

In 1886, the very first electric fan was invented by Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler. The idea of this electric fan was rather simple — it gets much too hot at times, and unlike bundling up during the cold, there wasn’t much you could do when it became too hot and humid. This simple electric fan had two-blades, was made of brass, and had no cage which made it somewhat dangerous. However, it was a personal desk fan that got the job done — which was the very reason it became so successful.

The invention and development of the electric fan eventually led to Philip Dehli inventing the electric ceiling fan. The invention of AC motors and the cheapening of fan blades meant the electric fan became much more accessible and affordable.

The fan timeline

  1. 3000 BC
    Pictorials of ancient fans

    The first appearance of fans in pictorials are dated to be around 3000 BC. Ancient civilizations used fans as either a cooling device or as a symbol of authority

  2. 180 AD
    The Chinese development

    The Han and Tang Dynasty would see developments with the rotary fan, evolving from hydraulics to steam-powered fans.

  3. 1886
    Creation of the first electric fan

    Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler invents the first electric fan, starting the avalanche of progress

  4. 1890s
    Creation of the first electric ceiling fan

    Philip Dehli creates and patents the first electric ceiling fan

Where was the fan invented?

The fan was invented in New York, courtesy of Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler.

The importance of the fan

  • The answer to a simple question

    When it came to the development of the electric fan, it was a relatively simple need that sparked its invention. The summers were too hot, and the invention of any electric-powered fan you could put on your desk would be a game-changer. Turns out, it absolutely was.

  • A mechanical marvel years into the making

    The Chinese, in particular, had a habit of improving on the rotary fan whenever they could. It was the Chinese that developed the rotary fan, before harnessing hydraulics and eventually steam to power it.

  • A simple invention that started an avalanche of progress

    The moment that Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler invented the electric fan, it started a mad dash of inventions and progress concerning further developments for the fan. It was an incredible time, as the electric fan seemed to improve every year.

  • An invaluable tool that gets the job done

    Just about everyone understands the importance of the electric fan. Even those who live in areas with cold weather more often than not can appreciate the value of an electric fan.

The fan by the numbers

  • 2The number of blades of the very first electric fan. The design of the first fan had a habit of going very fast, and those two steel blades can cause a lot of damage if you aren’t careful!
  • 250The average revolutions per minute (rpm) of a modern ceiling fan. 
  • 1000The rpm of fans inside laptops and computers. Compared to the typical fans, these computer fans are much faster to try to keep up with the heat generated by computers.
  • 1910The year the first electric fan for household use was developed. Back when the electric fan was first invented, it was so expensive that only the wealthiest families and big businesses could afford them.

Five facts about the fan

  • The differences in materials

    The first electric fan was made of brass except the blades, which were made of steel. As the electric fan developed, they went entirely for steel, and then aluminum. Eventually, electric fans were built primarily with plastics.

  • The rise and fall, and rise of electric fans

    While electric fans would gain a lot of buzz when they were first developed, the invention of air conditioning would lead to a significant loss in popularity. However, when people realized just how much energy ACs consumed, the electric fan was once again on the map.

  • The yacht propeller

    The iconic blade design of today’s electric fans were inspired by a yacht propeller. A designer named Jane Evans introduced the blade design, naming it the Silver Swan.

  • Overlapping blades

    The addition of cages made fans much safer, but it could still be pretty loud. The development of overlapping blades solved the issue and quieted down even the fastest electric fan. Companies continued to improve the fan for household use, and the overlapping blades were part of the modern push.

  • Fan manufacturers after the first electric fan

    Many different businesses tried their hand at manufacturing fans when the first electric fan was invented. These companies would include Emerson, General Electric, and Westinghouse.

FAQ about the fan

  • Is air conditioning better than electric fans?

    As far as keeping a room cool goes, the electric fan can’t compare with an air conditioner. However, what the fan has is consistency and accessibility. The AC will take far more energy to keep going than the fan, which means those who didn’t mind the disparity in performance would be saving a lot of energy choosing the fan over the AC.

  • What’s the best way to use a fan?

    Typically, you’d want the air to circulate well around the room, and the best way to do that is to place the fan close to a window or open door. It allows the fan to circulate the air and potentially get colder if it catches the breeze.

  • Do electric fans cool the air?

    Much as it seems that way, fans don’t actually cool the air. Instead, they make the air move around, which in turn cools your body. It’s a neat little trick that doesn’t take too much energy to accomplish.

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