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. Invented in 1786 for artist Charles Willson Peale by John Cram, a Philadelphia "instrument maker", the mechanism consisted of a treadle 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.
This yellow-painted fan chair consists of a yellow and green painted bow-back Windsor armchair with a pasteboard fan that extends over the chair from a post at center back and is operated by an A-frame treadle underneath the chair.
Bow-back Windsor armchair with nine tapered spindles, flat tapered arms, a D-shaped, saddled seat and four splayed, double-baluster-ring-ball-and-taper-turned legs joined by H-mounted stretchers. The continuous bow back is beaded on the flat front and rounded at back; it is reinforced with two tapered spindles that are tenoned into the extension on the back of the seat and into the bow. All the spindles are tenoned into the seat and the bow; seven at the center of the back extend through the bow and are wedged. The outward-curving arms with flat, circular terminals are supported by a single tapered spindle and a double-baluster-spool-ring-and-taper-turned arm post; each arm is joined to the bow with a circular through-tenon; the ends of the arm post and the supporting spindles are tenoned through the seat and wedged. The plank seat has a flat front, a slight pommel at front center, a coffin-shaped extension at the back center, and is beaded along the top outside edge; its underside is chamfered on all sides. Each leg is tenoned through the seat and wedged. The stretcher support has bulbous, single-swell side and medial stretchers with faint lines inscribed around the center of the swells. The majority of the chair is painted yellow, but the loss of this layer of paint on much of the arm posts, legs, and stretchers has exposed an earlier layer of dark green paint.
The fan superstructure is secured to the chair in several places. A horizontal board under the center of the seat is attached to a vertical board that rises behind the center back of the chair, is screwed to the center of the bow back, and continues above it. Narrow blocks with serpentine front edges are screwed to the lower section of each front leg and are in turn screwed to the sides of an A-frame treadle, which extends underneath and behind the chair. A narrow wooden shaft is screwed to the back of the treadle and extends up the proper left side where two leather ties are nailed to the outside and then wrapped around the rear of the pole from which the fan is suspended. The frame which holds the fan consists of an upper board and a lower cylindrical drive shaft or pole, each tenoned into the main post on one side and a short board on the other side; the upper board extends through the main post. Four short wooden strips, two on each side, extend from the lower drive shaft and are screwed onto each face of the pasteboard fan. The fan superstructure is painted yellow, with the exception of the last six inches of the outer extensions of the pedal, which are painted dark green.
The pasteboard fan is yellow and painted with a light green foliage border and a horizontal, pointed oval medallion in the center of both sides. Traces of the paper decoration that was originally pasted on each medallion remain on both sides. On the proper left side, the head of a reclining camel is visible. Only pieces of the outside border remain on the proper right side.