Zionsville’s Antique Fan Museum Will Blow You Away
Writer / Seth Johnson
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Indianapolis is home to many world-class museums, from the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. There’s one lesser-known museum in Zionsville, however, that’s sure to blow you away as well.
Housed at the Fanimation facility in Zionsville, the Antique Fan Museum features hundreds of antique fans, with some dating as far back as the early 1880s. Located in Zionsville since 2009, the museum features everything from electric fans to water-powered fans, ultimately showcasing the evolution of fan design over the years.
Fanimation founder Tom Frampton has worked with fans for the better part of his life.
“Following my junior year, about two blocks from my high school, I got a job with a guy that bought and sold antiques,” says Frampton, who grew up in Southern California. “He was into a lot of different things, but he got the idea to do some antique fan reproductions.”
As one thing led to the next, the premier brand known as Casablanca Fan Company was born.
“It went from the two of us in 1973 to about 300 people by the latter ‘70s, and we were making 1,200 fans a day,” Frampton recalls.
Frampton eventually took over his department independently, which was for specialty fans, which is how Fanimation began.
“My department went away, and it became Fanimation,” Frampton says. “I grew it from there. I did a custom fan for the movie set of “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” and the reaction to that fan when the movie came out put us on the map. We just grew rapidly after that.”
Frampton has now had fans featured in dozens of motion pictures.
After working with fans for so much of his life, Frampton gradually began to accumulate fans of all shapes and sizes.
“Going back to 1973, I’ve had them and been around them,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I was actively collecting them until maybe 15 years ago.”
With his passion for collecting antique fans, Frampton joined the Antique Fan Collectors Association (AFCA), which consists of approximately 475 members worldwide.
“There are members all over the U.S. and Canada,” Frampton says. “We’ve got some European members too. There are some in Asia, South America and Australia as well.”
Originally located in Wichita, Kansas in the lobby of Vornado fan company, the Antique Fan Museum features an assortment of fans that are on loan from members of the AFCA. After a change in ownership at Vornado, the museum needed a new home, and Frampton offered to bring it to Fanimation in Zionsville.
“The board of directors went there [to Wichita], along with some other club members,” Frampton says. “We packed the whole thing up, loaded it into a Ryder truck, and I drove it out here myself. We re-opened in July 2009 with just the ground floor.”
The museum has now expanded to two floors, and features more than 450 antique ceiling and desk fans, representing more than 140 manufacturers. Highlights include the earliest battery-powered fans, water-powered fans, steam-powered fans, belt-and-pulley fans, alcohol-powered fans, wind-up fans, electric handheld fans, wall fans, pedestal fans, rail car fans and hundreds of handheld fans featuring advertising from manufactures, retailers, politicians and movie stars.
Frampton believes some of the most intriguing fans in the museum are the water-powered fans.
“There was a company here in Indiana, the Indiana Fan Company, that produced water-powered fans,” he says. “They’re still in business downtown.”
One takeaway from the museum he believes that a lot of visitors have is the “incredible level of engineering that came before computers and all the high-tech tools we have today.”
“When you go back to 110 years ago, they’re casting everything in iron — there was no computer,” he says. “I look at some of these parts, and I can’t imagine how they made them. There’s a lot of lost art in there in terms of manufacturing.”
Whether visitors come in as fan fanatics or not, Frampton believes that everyone will get a kick out of the museum after stepping foot inside for the first time.
“Anybody who comes in here is just blown away by it,” Frampton says. “They can’t imagine what came before, and it’s astounding.”