Fan. 1. An instrument used to create a current of air. Hand fans are figured on Egyptian monuments dating as far back as the 17th century B.C., the kings being portrayed, at Thebes, for instance, as surrounded by fan-bearers. In Assyria, in China, in Persia, and in India, the use of the fan goes back to a remote antiquity. The materials were often feathers, or still oftener paper spread over a frame of stiffened wood or bamboo. In Greece fans date at least as far back as the 5th century B.C. Euripides in the Helen attributes their use to that queen and speaks of them as Phrygian. In Rome, too, they were much used. Both Greeks and Romans rarely fanned themselves; usually a female slave or eunuch was employed, but Ovid in the Ars Amatoria mentions fanning as one of the attentions paid to a lady by her admirers. Men, too, were (at Rome) often fanned by their slaves. In some Pagan religious ceremonies fans were carried, and in the early Western Church they were used to keep flies from the sacred elements. In the Eastern Church they are still used, and are (it is said) one of the insignia of the deacon. In Greece and Rome they were used as a bellows by cooks. All early fans, however, were non-folding. The folding fan is said to have originated in Japan, and to have been imitated in China. In the early Middle Ages Eastern fans were imported from the Levant by the Venetians. They were introduced into England during the reign of Richard II., and became fashionable in I'rance through the example of Catherine de Medicis. Watteau, Laucret, and other distinguished painters have frequently adorned fans with their paintings.
Folding fans are largely manufactured in China, but commonly reserved for the European market. Paris and the neighbouring departments (especially the Seine-et-Oise, where wooden frames are made) are the chief European seat of the manufacture. Of late years the use of the fan in decoration, in imitation of Japanese art, has been very general in England. A wood or ivory frame, and a covering of decorated paper, silk, satin, or feathers, or combinations of these materials, make up the modern folding fan, which is both graceful in itself and lends itself to graceful uses. Thus, in. the last century, there was a regular code of signals with the fan (described by Addison in the Spectator); for instance, the manner of holding it indicated the political creed of the holder, and it was a recognised instrument of flirtation. Possibly the use of the fan to cool the air [Punkah] was suggested by the winnowing fan, from which the various mechanical fans to create a draught or get rid of waste material are doubtless derived.
2. In Engineering, a special form of blowing machine for the purpose of creating a draught. The most generally adopted form is that known as the centrifugal fan, on the same principle as the centrifugal pump. A wheel with specially shaped vanes is made to rotate in a metal chamber. The air is drawn into the wheel and forced out in a definite direction by the rotating vanes. Such fans are much used for ventilation and for the production of forced draughts in furnaces.