Roto-Beam fan, circa 1940-1950, made in Chicago
Nothing says summer like the steady hum of a fan motor as it creates a breeze, even on the most breezeless of days.
I am sure I can thank (or, in my husband's case, blame) my parents for creating this association, most likely from my infancy. It seemed there was always the soothing presence of a Roto-Beam fan on top of the dresser in my room. We had several of these fans-which are the fans to which I compare all others even a half century later. My great-aunt and her husband owned the fan factory in Chicago. The factory closed in the late 1950s or early 1960s, but the leftover fans circulated around our family for decades. I even brought a floor model into my marriage. Over the years, that fan helped us survive our pre-air-conditioned summers, dried numerous rooms of paint and lulled me to sleep night after night.
I wish we still had it.
The fan had five black, Bakelite plastic blades that were smooth and cool to the touch--when the fan wasn't running, of course. The blades came together at a center point. For reasons I can't explain, my sisters and I liked to put one finger on the point when the fan was running. Yes, we occasionally went too far and bruised our fingers. We remained undeterred. It was worth risking life, limb and finger for the tactile thrill.
Even more fun was talking or singing into the spinning fan. The blades chopped our voices as they chopped the air, creating a crazy vibrato and forcing the sound back toward our giggling selves. We sometimes tied streamers to the cage surrounding the blades to watch them flap in the breeze during our afternoon "naps."
I distinctly remember that fan being a lifesaver the summer I started a chickenpox epidemic in our neighborhood. I was 10 years old, itchy, hot, miserable and incredibly irritated that I couldn't be around anyone for two weeks. My mom parked the fan in front of my bed and its ever-steady hum helped me relax and stop scratching long enough to sleep.
I don't know what happened to the fan. It may have finally given up-although I doubt it. I found some working models on eBay, but am not yet willing to trade $200 for a fan that is far older than I am.
Other fans have come and gone. They moved the air with an adequate hum-but ultimately, none of them measure up.
Were Roto-Beams the best fans ever? In my mind, yes, but that's nostalgia talking. On the other hand, they seem to generate interest on fan collectors' websites. Who knew people collected fans? Would that make them fans of fans?
I know I am.