Personal cooling devices have been around ever since some heated anthropoid discovered that waving a palm leaf in the face produced the agreeable sensation of a refreshing breeze. This historical first "wind chill" was duplicated by the royalty and wealthy persons of early Assyria and Egypt who employed a small army of slaves and servants waving huge leaves to make them feel cool on hot days.
Hand fans, still seen today, came into being around the birth of Christ. The Akomeogi, the Japanese folding fan, dates back to sixth century, A.D. A century or so later, the popular Chinese dancing fan, Mai Ogi, appeared with its ten sticks and a thick paper mount depicting the family crest. In India, a large fan of peacock feathers symbolized eternal vigilance of the ruler.
The hand fan was introduced to Europeans in the Middle Ages and soon became popular. By the mid 1750s in Paris alone, there were 150 master fan makers. At about this time, the world’s greatest inventors started to grapple with the problem of designing mechanically powered, personal wind-generating machines. Some of the more successful of these machines have appeared in the Smithsonian - the official magazine of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Successful use of mechanical fans was developed in the factories of the Industrial Revolution. Workers sweating at working got the idea of attaching wooden or metal blades to the whirl shafts overhead that were used to drive the machinery. The cooling breeze was evidently so satisfying that within a few years factories on a hot summer day were in danger of having their work blown away as long rows of line-shaft fans howled over the workers.
Thomas Edison introduced the first viable large scale use of electrical power. The ceiling fan had come of age. Electricity had been considered as a fan power source. But electricity was little more than a parlor game.
Diehl is generally considered the father of the modern electric fan. One of the giants of the electrical industry, Diehl was the genius head of Messrs. Diehl and Company. One of Diehl’s greatest projects, and one which eventually led to the development of the ceiling fan, was the engineering of a motor suitable for use in Singer sewing machines.
In 1882, with great fanfare, Diehl introduced his “invention of the electric ceiling fan.” His device was a bubble-blade adaptation of the well known belt driven fan with self-contained electric motor; the latter, a modification of his machine motor. By the end of the 1880s, “The Diehl Electric” was sweeping the country. At the same time the introduction of electric lights, electric street cars, and dozens of home electrical appliances were bringing the use of electricity to cities and towns across the country. The hundreds of generators and transmission stations made power inexpensive and readily available. Inventors scrambled to make their fortunes.
Philip Diehl continued to make major improvements, innovations, such as reducing motor size and adding lights the Diehl “Electrolier,” or electrified combination chandelier ceiling fan, the ultimate development in ceiling fan usefulness and soon the idea also became common property, and by the turn of century the ceiling fan was everywhere. It wasn’t long before it and sales, had traveled around the world.
By the late 1920s, no self-respecting restaurant, drug store, ice cream shop, elegant dining room, or even “speakeasy” was without a ceiling fan as part of their decor and ventilating system.