Tom Frampton has more fans than Lady Gaga. Some are alcohol driven and a few are AC-DC. Is this a catchy intro, or what?
Tom worked in the electric fan industry as a young man, then started his own company in California in 1984. When he moved to Indy 10 years later, he built a new facility in Zionsville. His company, Fanimation, designs and creates truly unique fans. Their 140-page catalog is a breath of fresh air. Every fan is distinctive: some modern, some nostalgic, some traditional. Compared to the first paragraph, this one was a drag. But read on.
Tom's interest in fans led him to amass a small collection as well as membership in an exclusive club of enthusiasts--fan fans, if you will. When the only fan museum in the country closed in Wichita, Kansas, in 2005, Tom offered to house the collection at its present Zionsville location. Tom and his wife drove out to Kansas where he and other fan collectors packed up 300-odd fans (some, very odd) and headed back to Indy where he added his own assortment of whirling wonders, making a total of over 450, which are now on exhibit. It is the only electric fan museum in the country open to the public.
Electric fans go back to the 1880s when savvy manufacturers realized they could just slap some blades on a motor and create a hot commodity. But it wasn't long before the electric fan became as much decorative as functional. Many of Frampton's fans (both in the museum and in his sales catalog) are works of art; many are enclosed or even hidden in elaborate exteriors. His restored antique fans are often models for many of his reproductions.
Take a spin through his 1500-square-foot museum and you'll be amazed at how many different kinds of fans there are. Sure, there are electric floor fans, desk fans and ceiling fans, but you'll also be blown away by those older models powered by water pressure, huge batteries, alcohol and steam. A few you even have to wind up. For many who breeze through the museum, the tour is nostalgic, especially for the senior crowd who gaze at fans that their parents and grandparents depended on before air conditioning was commonplace.
While Tom occasionally looks on eBay or collector sites, he finds most of his best pieces at estate sales. "I'm always looking for that diamond in the rough, that one-of-a-kind fan, but they are rare." Yeah, a good fan is hard to find.
He has created unique fans for resorts all over the world, including the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, where his ceiling fan is such a conversation piece that Tom has gotten calls in the middle of the night by people asking if they can buy a fan like that. They can. It's called a Punkah and you have to Google it to see just how offbeat (but never off center) it really is.
Tom is also a movie fan, which is why he's happy to provide fans for movies. In some cases, like Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Mel Gibson's 1994 Maverick, he was specifically contracted to make one for the set. Sometimes, like in the opening scene of I Robot, Tom was pleased to see that one of his creations, a single-bladed model, had, unbeknownst to him, been prominently displayed in this futuristic film.
That must have been cool!