In the old days, people tried to keep super-cool with a Superfan

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 27, 2002

Keeping cool in the era before the advent of air conditioning was always a real challenge for people trying to cope with the heat and humidity of what a once-popular song called “the good old summer time.” What folks actually contended with for decades was more like the &uot;summertime blues.&uot;

However, to help contend with the sometimes horrid heat about 50 to 60 years ago, a local firm devised a rugged electric fan which became a real asset for area residents. And to help understand more about the Superfan once made by Queen Stove Works of Albert Lea, maybe a nostalgic look back at how people tried to cope with the summertime heat and humidity would be logical.

Back in the 1880s and ’90s when women wore long skirts and working men had to function without the benefits of the gasoline engine or electricity, there weren’t too many options available to avoid the higher temperatures of a heat wave.

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About the only option then usable in a hot home was to open all the doors and windows and hope some kind of breeze would blow in to help cool the place. At night, those with upstairs bedrooms felt they had the cooler places to sleep.

Like cattle in a pasture, uncomfortably warm people a century or more ago tended to look for shade or a place by a body of water. The younger generation had the option of going swimming in a nearby stream or lake. Many children also had the option of following the ice man around on his route and begging for small chunks of frozen water which had been in cold storage since winter. People living in mountainous areas could ride the trains or hitch up their horses to the carriages and head for higher elevations.

About a century ago a personal way to stay cool and move air around became very popular. Small folding fans which could be kept in a purse were among the first items to be imported from China and Japan. The American version was a piece of cardboard cut in a fan shape with a finger or thumb hole at the base. On one side of this fan was artwork with a scenic or patriotic motif. The reverse side featured an advertising message from the sponsor of this once very desirable give-away item. In fact, cardboard fans on a stick handle are still used as advertising give-aways by some firms.

On overly warm Sunday mornings, the hymnals, missals, and even weekly bulletins in the churches became handy devices to be used as temporary fans to move air around and hopefully create a slight breeze around the faces of worshipers.

With the advent of electricity, it didn’t take some gadget lover very long to figure out a way to mount a small propeller blade on the shaft of a motor. Thus, the electric fan soon evolved into window, desk and ceiling models. These three, plus other variations, have been used through the years to move hot air around and hopefully cool the environment.

One of the sturdiest and most practical of the nation’s electrical fans originated in Albert Lea in the era prior to, during, and after World War II as a product of Queen Stove Works. In fact, this Superfan was intended to be a cool companion for the firm’s Superflame line of fuel oil furnaces.

The Superfan, when in the upright position, had the motor and fan blades on the bottom and the air vents near the top. This arrangement was intended in part as a safety measure to keep the fingers of children and careless adults away from the blades.

This fan could be used to cool kitchens and remove food odors. Another logical use for the Superfans was to cool bedrooms on hot sultry nights. Two other uses for this versatile fan were to aid with the distribution of radiator and hot air heat during the cooler part of the year. And still another use for this fan was to circulate air in the portion of the home being used to dry clothes hanging on a line.

Queen Stove Works is no longer a part of the city’s commercial life. One of their prime products, Superfans, have become nostalgic reminders of an era before the advent of even more powerful fans and home air conditioning units.