The collection

The Vortice collection of table fans

“The collector gathers up a desirable object and, by preserving it, not only preserves the signs of the time when it was made, but invests it with duration, and therefore history: the object acquires history by virtue of its nature, at the same time becoming collectable through being historic.”

Renato De Fusco

The Wind Machines

The Vortice collection of table fans provides an important witness to the material culture of a bygone age. It covers over one hundred years of industrial history: a history begun in the US at the close of the 19th Century and pursued with success in Europe, and in Italy, a history still being made with the new Vortice production.

Francesco Trabucco
From the preface to “Wind machines”

The collection brings together the first mechanical fans and the first models to use electrical energy: accordingly, it can be seen as recounting the birth and the evolution of household electrical appliances.

In the description of the materials, the first is the material of the impeller – The diameter of the impeller is expressed in mm

The dawn of the modern era

The first power driven fans in history

The precursors of the modern fan appeared in the United States around the mid 19th Century, at a time before American homes began to be wired for electricity. There were systems driven by burning oil and spirit, pedal power, spring mechanisms and water. Then in 1882 Thomas Alva Edison introduced the first electrical power distribution system, paving the way for the electric fan,and indeed for all other household electrical appliances.

On the other hand, the spread of the new energy source at consumer level was slow, which meant that spirit and oil powered fans continued to sell on the market for a few more years. The first fans to be manufactured were essentially functional objects. While improvements came steadily, there was no visual and formal element in their development: these were machines created by inventors rather than designers.

The beginnings of industrial production

The Early Twentieth Century

In the early years of the last century, the electric fan was a costly and not very practical item that relatively few could afford; nonetheless, it soon found a market, and became one of the symbols of technological progress.

And it was during this same period in the early 1900s that the fan took on its now instantly recognizable appearance. The protective cage in particular, with its curvilinear brass wire ribs, quickly became a primary visual feature of the product. The typical table fan of this period comprised a heavy base, fashioned generally in cast iron, a rotor with metal blades, and a protective grille. This soon became the archetypal design against which all future generations of electric fans would be measured.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the electric fan was considered one of the symbols of technological progress. A luxury that few people could possess. Not only was it an expensive item: it was also heavy, noisy and not very practical. Even so, there was soon a healthy market: offices, public buildings, workplaces, and the homes of the well-to-do.

Difference in concept between Art Déco and Streamline

The late ’20s saw a gradual decline in the first generation of electric fans: the market had become overcrowded with competitors (in the United States alone, there were more that eight hundred manufacturers).The economic crisis triggered by the Wall Street crash of 1929 led competing companies to focus on the price and the appearance of their product.

During the ’30s, consequently, designer of fans set about exploring every technical and visual combination imaginable. As a result, the range and selection of product types on offer was notably varied. In terms of design, the two most significant developments in style to occur during the ’30s and ’40s were Art Déco and Streamline.

After the Second World War

The economic boom and “Made in Italy”

With the second great conflict at an end, the reconversion of industry to peacetime activity resulted in a sharp acceleration of output and gave new impetus to research in the field of materials and manufacturing technologies. The importance of post-war reconstruction was such that the ’50s became the years of the economic boom and of increasing consumer demand.

It was also a period that saw domestic manufacturing — Made in Italy — well established in all sectors of the household electrical appliances market.The success of Italian household electrical appliances was attributable mainly to the flair of our entrepreneurs and to the superior quality of the products, but no less to the contribution made by industrial design. Indeed the notion of “Beautiful Italian Design” dates from this period.

The design of plastics

Form and Function

During the late ’50s and throughout the ’60s, an infinite range of new plastic materials appeared, the key features of which were their shapeability, their compatibility with numerous production systems — extrusion, thermoforming, compression, injection and blow moulding, etc. — their strength and durability, and the widest imaginable variety of colour finishes available. So it was that plastics, in all their different guises, became the material of choice for European design, given the advantages they offered in engineering terms, but also by virtue of the innovative message they were able to send out.

Present-day production

Anonymous forms and around

In recent years, the tendency among European manufacturers of small household electrical appliances has been to decentralize production, focusing on areas where the cost of labour is much less than in Europe — typically Eastern Europe and the Far East. As a result, many European companies today have stopped making small household electrical appliances, including fans, and now simply buy in products from other markets, which they brand and sell on the home market.

Consequently, the present-day manufacture of table fans relies to a large extent on products that are anonymous, from a formal standpoint. In this scenario, products made by VORTICE are a notable exception.

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