CEILING FANS: A BRIEF HISTORY

In the world of electrical appliances, the invention of ceiling fan was a major milestone. Yet, when it comes to innovation, this is one appliance that has been overlooked by almost everyone. Ceiling fans may have even become obsolete in a few places with the advancement in air conditioning and home temperature control devices. But they still are a simple and affordable source of respite from torrid climates in tropical countries.

When we try and delve into the history of ceiling fans, we find that it is nothing but fascinating. The concept of ceiling fan dates back to as early as the time of the Roman Empire, where human powered palm frond ceiling fans were present. A similar type of fan was the ‘punkah’ that originated in the early 17th century in India, a palm frond or cloth-covered frame hung from the ceiling that moved when a servant pulled a cord. The next stage was the advent of ceiling fans powered by steam and a turbine. Such systems were belt driven and could serve a whole network of fans, such as in restaurants, large offices, department stores etc. These fans were most popular in the southern and southwestern states like Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, and this was even before the widespread use of electricity.

It was not until the late 19th century that we could see some major innovations brought about in ceiling fans. The first among them was in1882. An electrically powered ceiling fan was built, by a German-American man named Philip Diehl. He adapted an electric motor that he had designed for use in the Singer sewing machines and decided to install it into what would be the world’s first ceiling fan. During the same time, in 1886 the father and son duo of John and James Hunter built their first ceiling fan, powered by running water and a turbine. Shortly afterwards in 1896, the era of the modern ceiling fan began with the production of the alternating current in Fulton, New York. Facing fierce competition due to the commercial success of the ceiling fan, Phillip Diehl continued to make improvements to his invention and created a light kit fitted to the ceiling fan to combine both functions in one unit.

By the 1920s, ceiling fans were commonplace in the United States, operating with four blades instead of the original two, which made fans quieter and allowed them to circulate more air. When the air conditioners were introduced in the 1950s, ceiling fans slowly started to phase out from popular usage in the United States. But as that was happening, they started becoming hugely popular in various tropical countries like India and other African countries.

Improvements in induction motor technology brought about by Crompton-Greaves Ltd. and Encon Industries during the energy crisis of the late 1970s and early 1980s led to the production of ceiling fans which consumed around 70-80W power. Due to this renewed commercial success using ceiling fans effectively to save energy, many American manufacturers also started significantly increasing the number of ceiling fans produced. But even with widespread usage, the world of ceiling fans did not see much innovation after this period.

Since 2000, important inroads have been made by companies offering higher priced ceiling fans with more decorative value. Brushless direct current motors or BLDC motors first made the scene in 1962 but it was in 2009, almost 47 years later that it was used in ceiling fans by Emerson Electric in the United States. This new motor technology reduced power consumption even further to below 50W and ushered in a new era of energy efficient ceiling fans. The energy saving by using BLDC ceiling fans was just too good to be ignored.

In India too, this technology was first brought in by Versa Drives Pvt. Ltd when they launched Superfan and achieved a power consumption of 35W. And Atomberg Technologies, with the Gorilla Fans have taken power saving to a new level altogether by launching 28W fans. All this while achieving the same level of performance as any normal 70-80W fan.

In a country like India where 22% of the population still do not have access to electricity, we need to have more innovations and inventions that can help us save energy or tap into alternate energy sources. It is disappointing to see that there hasn’t been many such innovations or inventions in this aspect for such a long period of time. We hope to change this notion at Atomberg Technologies, by bringing further innovation in the world of ceiling fans. And finally, the ceiling fan will be the centre of attraction in your room, both literally as well as figuratively.