The Fan Man Fan Museum in Dallas' Lakewood Shopping Center might be the coolest museum around. You don't have to be enthralled by the artistic beauty of hundreds of antique appliances to enjoy this museum. Looking for a refreshing breeze in the summer heat can be enough to suck you into the small shop next to a nickel arcade in one of Dallas' oldest shopping centers.
James Denoyer's collection of fans covers a century of cooling devices. The shotgun-style store houses about 100 fans from his collection of more than 300 desk models and 100 ceiling fans. Nearly every square inch of the shop is filled with spinning blades. Overhead the ceiling is covered with more fans, some hidden behind ornate light fixtures.
Electric generation goes back to the 17th century, but the electric revolution didn't really begin until Samuel Morse used it to power the telegraph. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb in 1879. After the electric motor was invented a few years after the light bulb, fans were one of the first household devices marketed to show how electricity could improve living conditions.
Electrical power came to Texas when a power plant was built in Galveston in the early 1880s. One of the largest early electric generators was the hydroelectric plant established at the dam across the Colorado River in Austin. The dam was destroyed by a flood in 1900 and replaced by Tom Miller Dam. It wasn't until the 1930s and 1940s that electricity began spreading out to the rural areas.
The first practical electric fans were produced around 1883, Denoyer says. In their early development, electric fans were a major purchase that could easily have cost the average American the greater part of a month's wages. The fans were ornate pieces of furniture, designed to blend with the Victorian and Edwardian styles of the period, and with proper maintenance, intended to last indefinitely.
In his shop next door, Denoyer works on hundreds of different kinds of fans. Not only is he an authorized dealer and repair shop for a modern ceiling fan manufacturer, but he also restores old fans and reproduces copies of antique fans. His reproductions include a pole fan, a two-motor ceiling fan, and decorative pedestal fan based on a 1920s design.
Looking much like a pole lamp with an upside-down ceiling fan on the top, the pole fans were popular at the turn of the century before buildings were wired for electricity. The twin motor Gyro ceiling fans looked like two desk fans facing in opposite directions with the whole thing spinning in the center of a room. "They threw out a lot of air," Denoyer says, "and they're neat looking."
Asked which of the hundreds of different designs of fans is his favorite, Denoyer deadpans, "The last one I sold." After thinking for a moment, "I like the ones from the 1930s, the art deco styles," he responds seriously. His collection spans from the black, heavy early models with shiny brass blades to the elaborate, egg-shaped motor housings of later years. One can almost trace American art styles by the shapes of the desk fans.
At one time, Denoyer's wife put together a display from their collection of the evolution of General Electric fans in the front of the shop. GE essentially used the same motor in a series of appliances like fans, hair dryers, and blenders. It was their experimentation with blade types that make the series of fans a timeline of artistic appliance evolution.
An interesting GE fan has scoop-shaped blades. "They were trying to find a blade shape that was quieter," Denoyer says. Even the blades went through an evolution of development. Early fans had long, thin, flat blades, often made of shiny brass that accented the black cast iron housing. Then the shape began to curve to catch more of a breeze until the wide blades almost overlapped. "A lot of shapes were tried," Denoyer says. "Early blades were heavy; not until lighter materials could they make them larger."
Both sides of the long and narrow museum are lined with shelves displaying fans of every conceivable size and shape, like a row of colorful daisies. One of the more unusual is a tall, two-paddle fan that turns slowly after it is wound up. It was used to shoo flies from the table, Denoyer says.
More than 800 companies have made fans in the last century. Almost all of them are represented among the propellers lining the shelves. There is a small fan that operated on vacuum pressure in a railroad car. Among the ceiling fans is one with retractable blades that disappear into an art deco light fixture.
On the back shelves is the Denoyers' collection of antique kitchen appliances and a couple of examples of old telephones. The old waffle irons and toasters are a special interest of Denoyer's wife. The antique radios in the back room are Denoyer's special collection.
With the exception of a few rare models, all of the fans in the museum are for sale. Tours of the Fan Man Museum are free. The museum is off Abrams Road at Gaston Avenue a few miles north of downtown Dallas at 1914 Abrams Pkwy. Jim Denoyer is usually in his workshop next door, Monday-Friday 9am-6pm and Saturday 10am-4pm. For information, call 214/826-7700 or 826-7721.
Coming up this weekend ...
Night In Old Fredericksburg lasts all day in Fredericksburg's Market Square, with German music, historical demonstrations, arts & crafts show, and plenty to eat and drink, July 17. 830/997-6523.
Olde Blanco Market Day around the Old Blanco Courthouse offers an array of items for sale, July 17. 830/833-2201.
Great Texas Balloon Race in Longview features hot air balloons competing for prize money at Gregg County Airport, July 16-18. 903/753-3281.
Coming up ...
Dollar Day at the Dallas Zoo is July 20, when everyone is admitted for only a buck. 214/942-3678.
Maiden Voyage of the Carnival Cruise Lines' four-day round-trip service from Galveston to Cozumel begins Oct. 5-9, 2000. Reservations for the $467 package (based on double occupancy) are now being taken. 800/755-8551.
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