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It is a chair with four legs and a round back with spindles. There is a pole attached to the back of the chair, reaching high above it. Attached to the pole is a rectangular piece of wood (the "fan"), which can move back and forth. At the bottom of the chair are two oval pedals, one on each front leg. The pedals move the fan at the top.

The fan chair is 76 5/16 in. high, 25 3/4 in. wide, and 28 3/8 in deep. It is an oak color, made out of a variety of woods. 

When looking at the fan chair, consider the following questions:

  • Why would George Washington want a chair like this in his house? (Hint: think of what his house doesn't have, as well as the environment in Virginia)
  • Do you think this invention was popular? Why or why not?
  • When do you think this device was used? When was it not used?
  • Who would have sat in this chair and used this device? 

Classroom Materials downloads are ZIP files that include, when available: document images (JPEGs), document transcripts (PDF as well as Word and/or Excel files), and ready to use classroom resources (activities, discussion prompts, lesson plans, etc.). These materials are available for educational uses only. If you would like to reproduce them in any other medium, please contact Dawn Bonner, Manager of Visual Resources.

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While in Philadelphia, attending the Constitutional Convention in 1787, George Washington purchased a fan chair. Its current whereabouts are unknown, but this version likely resembles the original. It was invented in 1786 by John Cram for artist Charles Willson Peale. The chair consisted of pedals below the sitter's feet that moved the fan suspended above the chair. Peale hoped it would be "useful to the studious and others that are obliged to sit at their employments . . . to keep them cool. . . ." Washington installed his chair in his study, most likely for the convenience of the private secretaries who he employed to organize his military and plantation records.

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