Indian Fan Industry: How It All Began

Hardeep Singh, CONSULTANT-Luminous

The invention of the electric ceiling fan is one of the major milestones in the history of mankind, and it all began in the late 19th century when the first electric fan was invented in the USA. Later, during the early 20th century, companies such as GE Westinghouse, Emerson, and a few more started producing electric fans on a mass scale, and by the 1920s electric ceiling fans became commonplace in the US.

But that’s about America getting their first electric fans. What about India?

When did fan manufacturing begin in India?

And when did India get its first electric ceiling fan?

Well, the history of electric fan manufacturing in India is not well documented, so it will be difficult to put an exact date and chronology to that.  But let’s say that it all began in the 1930s and by the 1940s quite a few established manufacturers started manufacturing electric fans in Calcutta.

Come, let’s take you on a journey that gives us a glimpse of some of these pioneers of Indian fan manufacturing who led this revolutionary change from the mid-19th century to the late 1950s.

The Pioneers of that era

Several prominent names such as Clyde, IEW (India Electric Works), Orient, Usha, Kassels, Crompton Parkinson forayed their way into manufacturing electric fans in India. The range of Fans included Ceiling fans, table fans, and Railway carriage fans apart from Air Circulators for Industries

While most fan manufacturing companies started production during the 1930s and post that, here is an interesting fact shared by a writer in one of his blogs. According to him, Kshirode Bihari Chakraborty, a Bengali entrepreneur, set up Clyde Engineering Company Ltd, an electric fan manufacturing company, in the year 1918. By that account, he becomes the father of the Fan Industry in India unless contested. The writer also mentions that Kshirode Bihari Chakraborty was encouraged and financially supported by various native aristocrats that included the likes of Kumar Arun Singha of Paikpara and Maharaja Rajendra Kishore of Mymensingh, to set up this company in Calcutta. This is not yet contested but Yes, Clyde Fans were surely one of the early entrants.

IEW (Indian Electric Works) was another major player involved in manufacturing electric fans in India during the early 1930s. They gave India some robust electric fans that came with sturdy motors. In fact, you would be surprised to know that some of these fans are still in use at the Southern Indian Railway stations.

Orient Fans, which is currently a leading Fan Brand in India, is one of the very few pioneers of Indian fan manufacturing that not only survived over the years, but is thriving to date. The company dates back to the 1930s and it is evident through the newspaper ad that has a picture of Netaji Subhash Bose endorsing these fans that were used in the AICC pandal in Calcutta in October 1937. Interesting, Isn’t it?

The company manufacturing Orient Fans was later sold off to Birla’s in 1940’s and is still one of C K Birla’s flagship company.

Then there were Kassel Fans that are said to have been manufactured by Indian medium-sized manufacturers. Later it merged with Bajaj Electricals and even today some models remain in Kassels Brand in Bajaj fans portfolio.

Some other prominent names that contributed to the introduction of electric fans in India are Usha fans. The company was started by Sir Shriram a leading North Indian industrialist of those times.  Initially started as a sewing machine company, they later started producing electric fans in 1946. This is also one of the early brands going strong till today.

The other major player was Crompton Parkinson, a subsidiary of the British company Crompton Parkinson which was taken over in 1947, by Mr. Karam Chand Thapar, founder of the Thapar Group and up to recently was in their fold as Crompton Greaves. Now it has changed hands but Crompton fans even today enjoy the premium-ness of yesteryears.

Another brand manufactured in Calcutta was POWER which was exceptionally well known for its DC ceiling fans (remember some generation and distribution of power supply was still DC till 1950’s). Later in the early seventies, the company along with their other brand Polar was sold off and is still on the market.

Sure, some of the old established names like GEC fans along with IEW, Clyde have been swept away with the passage of time but each one of them had an important role in the industrial revolution of Fans.

Concluding Remarks

While the details are still available and we could gather some historical details of the Calcutta origin of fans but up north in Amritsar too, a revolution happened in the fan industry. Most of the 100 odd manufacturers were small and tiny scale workshops born out of the partition of India and Pakistan. The numbers kept going down after 1950’s as they focussed only on North India and without any Brand building initiatives.

Few like Laxmi in Ludhiana (who also made Sewing Machines.) and Hero Fans in Amritsar (no relation to Hero Cycles) continued for some time.

In fact, the hugely popular Farrata fan (pedestal fan for rugged use) is a gift of the Punjab industry to the nation.