Ceiling fans - A story of success

Ceiling fans have been around for centuries. Find out how they were invented and how they developed into the sophisticated devices we know today.


  • What is a ceiling fan?
  • History of the fan
  • Importance of ceiling fans today

What is a ceiling fan?

Generally speaking a fan is a kind of turbomachinery that is used for improved air circulation in rooms. Ceiling fans are a type of fans and, like the name suggests, are mounted to ceilings, posing a space-saving alternative to pedestal fans. These electronic devices are famous for being smoothly and quietly operating as well as being useful during summer and winter. On hot days the created air flow results in a cooling effect, during winter the warm air that rises towards the ceiling is redistributed in the entire room, saving costs for heating. And yet it is not only because of their functionality that these devices are gaining more and more popularity, they can also be perfectly matched to the rest of the interior decoration. There are many different shapes and sizes as well as materials. In the end, ceiling fans are not just a fan or a home accessory, but also a source of lighting depending on the model. 

Hugger mount ceiling fan with light


The most important parts of a ceiling fan include: 

  • Electric motor and motor housing
  • Canopy
  • Drop rod (hugger mount ceiling fans don't have a rod)
  • Ceiling bracket
  • Fan blades
  • Glass shade (if the fan has a light kit)


Generally speaking ceiling fans are devices that weigh quite a lot, therefore it is crucial to pay special attention to the mounting on the ceiling, not least because of the rotating motion. 


As not all rooms have the same size and height, there are many different types of ceiling fans. For example a fan with a larger diameter has a lower rotation speed than a device with a smaller size. 
Furthermore there are different speeds that ensure an ideal and individual interior climate. A ceiling fan will create air flow through its rotating motion, that result in a cooling breeze for users. 
This effect occurs during the so-called forward motion where the inclination of the blades cases the air to be pushed away. Modern devices also have a feature for a reverse motion.
That means the motion direction is changed, therefore the air is being sucked upwards instead of being pushed down. This motion, also known as winter mode, can distribute air in the entire room. 



Apart from various sizes and shapes there are also different materials available. There are models made of stainless steel, different kinds of wood, synthetic material and other materials. If you are not really sure which kind of design to choose, make sure to check out our guide "Which design is right for me?".

History of the ceiling fan

Especially in American homes the ceiling fan is an integral part of the furniture. Origins and predecessors, however, are found on the other side of the globe and much older than one would assume at first sight. Nevertheless, the United States of America is where the ceiling fan celebrated its biggest success. 


It did not take until the invention of electricity for ceiling fans to be built, only a few hundred years AD the first manually powered predecessor is said to have been used. This concludes that early origins can be found in China as well as the Middle East. 

Manual ceiling fan in China

The first ceiling fan is said to already have operated in 180 B.C. during the times of the Han dynasty in China. However, back then there were no power supplies, therefore this first model needed to be moved manually. Just one single man was able to provide fresh air for an entire hall. The first fans supposedly had a diameter of about three metres. 

Models in the Middle East

Other earlier models, with completely mechanical operation have been used since 1800 and are presumed to originate in the Middle East. Back then, these fans covered with canvas textile were suspended from the ceiling and are likely the inspiration for ceiling fans as we know them today. The first historically mentioned fan is the Punkah Fan from the Middle East that moved in a slow pendulum-like fashion, unlike modern ceiling fans that operate with a rotating motion. 

Crucial requirements for the development

For these older models to turn into the ceiling fan we now today, various factors during the 19th century were crucial. One one hand there is the tremendous technological progress in many areas during the times of the Industrial Revolution were a significant requirement. On the other hand the nation-wide use of electrical power helped making the ceiling fan available for everyone and quickly gain popularity.  

1. Industrial Revolution

The mechanisation and automatisation of manufacturing is called industrialisation. The Industrial Revolution is considered to have started in the middle of the 18th century in England. It spread to other countries and finally reached Germany in the mid 1900s, where it completely turned around all social and economic conditions that were concentrated on agriculture. Back then, the central aspect for a prospering economy was technological progress. Inventions like the steam engine, Otto engine, light bulb as well as electric weaving machines meant a revolution in manufacturing, transportation, and not least the whole economy. Another important aspect is the erection of large production halls and factories. The conditions during the production process, however, were often quite bad due to heat and stale air. Fans became indispensable. 

2. Electricity


Apart from the rise in demand for fans in general and the technological progress, it was the electrical drive and the electric motor respectively increased the importance of ceiling fans. The first electric models were considered too complicated due to the used straps and also too expensive to purchase. Not least the connection to a power network in many homes posed a problem as well. 

First modern inventions

Importance of ceiling fans today

Nowadays ceiling fans need to be much more than just a way of air conditioning. Ceiling fans are supposed to blend in perfectly with designs of interior decoration and modern homes. That is why by now there are models with or without lighting, and even devices that can be controlled with a remote control or a smartphone. 

as an air conditioner

Nowadays modern buildings are designed and constructed with a comprehensive ventilation plan. The ceiling fan is only one small possible measure. American homes in particular incorporate not only fans, but also air conditioning systems that, unlike fans, can actually cool down air. And yet these devices are seen as an integral part of ventilation as they insure an even, pleasant distribution of air in the room. However, ceiling fans are not only suitable for private households, they are also a cost-efficient addition to air conditioning systems for establishments in the hotel and catering industry. 

as interior decoration

As mentioned before, a ceiling fan is not regarded as just an air conditioner, but also as part of the interior decoration. Many producers are therefore offering many different shapes, models, sizes, colours and features in order to fulfil personal preferences. From classic, timeless models to traditional versions to fancy items - everything is possible. Models with integrated light kits furthermore allow a combination of ceiling light and ventilation.

Image 1 – 4, pictures graphic: © Creoven.de

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Image 6: © Erica Guilane-Nachez – Fotolia.com

Image 7: © Gina Sanders - Fotolia.com

Image 8: © Creoven.de