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Fans can be beautiful, intriguing, useful, quirky, and informational. For those who want to experience their magic, the Wisconsin Historical Museum has mounted an exhibit called Cool Breezes: Handheld Fans in Fashion, Art, and Advertising. 80 fans are part of an ExhibitsUSA travelling exhibit that emphasizes those from the twentieth century. More than 40 other fans are from the Wisconsin Historical Museum's collection;included are Wisconsin fashion and advertising fans from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These fans are now online (see below). To view the travelling exhibit's fans visit the Wisconsin Historical Museum at 30 N. Carroll, Madison, Wisconsin by January 19, 2005.

Before the advent of electric fans and air-conditioning, handheld fans provided comfort on hot summer days. They began as useful unadorned objects, but during the sixteenth century became beautiful and elaborate fashion accessories for women. Around 1800 women's fashion changed abruptly from hoop gowns to clingy dresses. Fans seemed bulky and coarse next to the new fashion and went out of style. In the Victorian Era, they returned to popularity as eveningwear accessories. Fans made during this period were usually mass-manufactured. Around 1930 sophisticated women began to prefer carrying cigarettes and cocktails at elegant functions and fans came to be seen as old-fashioned. However, handheld fans did not disappear completely. Businesses had dabbled with using fans as a form of advertising by the mid-nineteenth century, but used them more frequently after the 1876 Centennial Exposition, where vendors sold souvenir fans of the event. Fans' function as an advertising medium continues today, especially at sports events and other places where there is no air conditioning.

Treasures from the Collection

Fans of the Milwaukee Elite

Fans as Wedding Accessories

Mourning Time

Breezy Gifts

Girls and their Fans


Even Fashionable Dolls Have Fans

Fanning Politics and Patriotism

Cool Advertising

Souvenirs from Near and Far

Zona Gale Breese's Souvenir Fans
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