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Written By Duane L. Burright for DT Vintage Fans

A Brief History of the Signal Electric Manufacturing Company

The company that would become Signal was called Menominee Electrical. They were located in Menominee, Michigan. Aside from fans and ventilation, they also made telephones, telegraph equipment, instruments, bells, radios and, as put in this Electrical World archive, "many other things too numerous to mention." Since the focus of this article is fans, I'll stick to that subject.

Among the collectible fans Menominee made were fans that collectors identify as Staghorns (for the way that the cage struts appear) and Snowflakes (for the pattern of the holes in the motor housing). Another interesting fan they made was a radial axis type fan and a socket fan (which screwed into a light socket), which can be seen here.

In 1919, Menominee Electric was reorganized and renamed Signal Electric Manufacturing company. However it took them a few years to begin making fans again; the first known examples of Signal fans date back to 1926 or 1927. The catalogs I have go back to that time as well.

Signal continued to grow and produce fans, and in 1952 they were bought out by King-Seeley Thermos Co. The company continued making fans, heaters, small electric motors and portable electric hand tools under the Signal name as a division of King-Seeley. A few of the fans and advertisements I have from the mid-1950s show this relationship.

In June of 1964, King-Seeley announced that it would close the Signal Division in Menominee. In October of that same year, Vernco Corporation of Tennessee agreed to purchase Signal from King-Seeley. Interestingly, Vernco also was a fan manufacturer - a few people on DT have fans by this manufacturer. Finally, in 1977, Vernco was bought out by Emerson Electric.

From what I can gather, the original Signal factory building in Menominee is still standing, but it is, as of yet, unoccupied.

Note that the timeline above wouldn't have been possible without K8IR'S SIGNAL ELECTRIC PAGE. I'd like to thank them for having this reference site out there. A lot of the information seen above wouldn't have been possible without this resource.

The Fans Signal Produced

Signal had two lines of fans that they made--the primary line which was branded Signal, and the secondary line which was branded Cool Spot. The Signal branded fans were typically higher end fans with more features and more powerful motors while the Cool Spot line were more budget oriented fans with less features. For example, in the 1930s, a 12" Cool Spot oscillator had two speeds versus a three speed Signal branded 12" model. Both were quality fans at any rate since many still survive today.

Note that I will mainly go into brief detail on models made in each decade with some focus on particularly unique fans. See the Database of all Signal Fan models for more information on specific models. Much of this information has been gathered from catalogs and literature. For further detail and information, I'd recommend seeing the catalog set (which is a coming attraction on the DT Site).
 

1920s All of the fans offered during the '20s were very basic fans with windmill type blades. One of the standout fans in this era was the Type 901, which was a full polished aluminum 9" oscillator. These are sought after by collectors. Another interesting fan is the TF-1, which was a "bank teller" type desk fan with an axial flow blade set. At this point, there isn't much information on Signal's early fans.

 

1930s From 1930 to 1935, Signal's higher end fans had the typical windmill design, however, models such as the Types 650 and 850 featured a six pole motor for quiet operation. An interesting fact about the 650 and 850 is that they ran counterclockwise, and in 1934 these fans had 6 blades. These were marketed as a quiet residence fan, similar to those offered by G.E., Emerson and Westinghouse.

In 1936, Signal redesigned the blades on their higher end fans to an overlapping design, which was similar to the blades on the Emerson 77 series fans, while the economy models had a basic "windmill" type blade. The overlapping blade design endured into the mid to late 1950s. They were known as the "Silent Blade" and were very true to that name in that they operated very quietly. Starting in 1937, these blades began to trickle down to the secondary Cool Spot line of fans. In this year, Signal also began manufacturing ventilator fans, ranging from small 10" wall box residential kitchen exhaust fans (Types V-30 and V-50) to large and powerful bucket-wheeled exhaust fans (Type V-112 to Type V-224) for commercial applications.

In 1937, Signal introduced a line of air circulators which were marketed towards commercial establishments. The initial offerings were 22" and 28" circulators (Types S-22 and S-28) which could be mounted on a low stand, a pedestal, a wall mount or hung from the ceiling. In 1938, they offered improved models in 24" and 30" sizes (Types SL-24 and SL-30 are examples), which persisted through the end of the decade.

Perhaps the most interesting fan of the 1930s was what is known as the Signal DeLuxe (called the "Mixer Fan" by collectors). These fans were made in the late 30s and had a very Art Deco look with black paint and high polished 16" overlapping blades. Other features of this fan were enclosed oscillation controlled by a push / pull knob at the back of the motor housing, a quiet running low RPM six pole motor and a unique transverse carry handle. The Type # on these is 1639 and they are somewhat uncommon.

The most common fan seen from this era is the 350A, which is a 12" three speed model finished in black with polished Silent Blades. This fan was made from 1936 to 1940. In 1939, a pedestal version of the 16" oscillator was offered. This fan had the P-1250-A Type number and was a residential type fan.

 

1940s In this timeframe, pretty much all Signal fans came with the overlapping Silent Blades and the design became more modern and streamlined. The 10" and 12" fans bore the Cool Spot name, while the 16" fans simply were sold under the Signal name. In the early part of this decade, most of Signal's fans were black with a cadmium plated guard, while in the latter half of that decade, the Cool Spot fans were offered in Metallic Windsor Green or a Light Tan color (the Tan ones are uncommon). Common model numbers from this era are Type 562 (10" single speed Cool Spot oscillator), Type 361 (12" three speed Cool Spot oscillator), Type 1251 (16" three speed Signal oscillator) and Type P-562 (pedestal version of Type 562, which was made through 1949). Somewhat uncommon models include the Type 551 (10" three speed Signal oscillator) and the Type P-1251 (pedestal version of Type 1251).

In 1949, a new budget oriented 10" Cool Spot oscillator called the Type 1049 was introduced. From 1949 to 1952, it was offered in Light Tan finish.

The Type 1639 Signal DeLuxe 16" oscillator continued through 1941.

In 1941, the air circulator lineup was changed to 20" and 24" sizes with a new blade design, and although the model numbers changed, the fans remained the same.

As far as ventilation fans go, in 1940 Signal began offering a new line called "Challenger" ventilators. These were utility type vent fans with the Signal Silent blades on them. In 1941, Signal offered a three speed controller for their bucket blade and flat blade vent fans. The Bucket Wheel ventilators continued through this decade in 12", 16", 18" and 24" sizes.

1949 saw the introduction of a new Hassock / Table fan (Type TF-12). This fan featured a wooden outer casing, which gave it the appearance of a piece of furniture. These fans were called the Secretaire line.

 

1950s The 1950s saw the continuation of many of the oscillating, ventilation and hassock fans along with the introduction of a set of box fans and window fans in sizes ranging from 10" to 20" and a new line of consumer grade ducted HV fans.

The Type 562 10" Cool Spot fan continued to be made until 1952. At that point, the Cool Spot models became more budget oriented, as reflected in the 1*49 series of fans. This model line had a 10" single speed, a 12" two speed and  a 16" three speed version, called the Type 1049, Type 1249 and Type 1649 respectively. The 1*49 series of fans ran until 1954, when they had a distinctive triangular shaped badge. These specific year models are tricky to find in good complete condition.

In 1952, the Type 361 12" three speed oscillator was brought under the Signal brand and got a new Blue-Grey color. The Type 1251 16" three speed oscillator also got a new Blue-Grey color in 1949 (along with its companion Pedestal version the P-1251).

1954 was pretty much the final year for these fans. After that, Signal changed their model number scheme. The same basic fans did continue to be made under new model numbers:

All of the Signal branded fans still had the Blue-Grey finish. Also, the 16" models gained a new wider style blade set.

Model 12-2400: Signal branded 12" oscillating fan.
Model 16-2400: Signal branded 16" oscillating fan.
Model 16-2480: Signal branded 16" oscillating pedestal fan.

The Cool Spot line still had the Opalescent Windsor Green finish. The 10" models gained a control knob for the oscillation and new designed blades, while the 12" and 16" models were carryovers from the previous line.

Model 10-1400: 10" Cool Spot oscillator.
Model 12-1400: 12" Cool Spot oscillator.
Model 16-1400: 16" Cool Spot oscillator.

The "Secretaire" hassock fan line changed a bit as well. The TF-12 continued through 1951 and was replaced by model numbers TF-122 (Walnut finish) and TF-123 (Blonde finish). These models were apparently discontinued in 1954.

The Air Circulator line was updated in 1951 as well, with 20" and 24" models offered. These fans had new OSHA styled cages to meet the latest workplace safety requirements.

1954 also saw the introduction of a new set of ducted high velocity fans. These fans were marketed as direct competition to Vornado Fans and came in 10" (Model HV-100) and 12" (Model HV-120) sizes.

1950 saw the introduction of window fans to the Signal lineup. These fans were offered in a range from a basic 10" exhaust fan to a 20" model with full reverse and thermostat capabilities. For more information, see the Window Fan section of the Model List Database.

1955 was the year that Signal began making box fans. They offered these fans in 12", 16.5" and 20" sizes. They had features available such as a Breeze Diffuser grille, electric reverse, and thermostatic controls on all models. I believe Signal was the only manufacturer to offer such features on a smaller model fan since Lakewood and others really only offered this on their higher end 20" models. These box fans also had plenty of accessories to go with them such as Window Expander Panels, Rollabout Mobile Stands and Low Tilt Stands. Info on these models is in the Box fan and Box fan Accessories areas of the Model List Database.

The ventilation fans that were introduced in the 1940s continued into the 1950s. During this time, Signal did introduce a new built in the ceiling kitchen ventilator fan (CW Series). The Bucket Wheel and Challenger lines continued to be made as well.


In addition to the fans Signal made under their own name, they also made fans for large retail stores like Montgomery Wards and Sears. Many 50s era Kenmore fans are based on Signal's oscillating fans, HV Ducted fans and box fans, even down to the serial numbers these fans had.

How To Date Your Signal Fan

In my experience, with models from the 1930s onward, the serial number contains the date code. There are two types of Serial Numbers seen, though--the earlier style which could be something like G41783 (off of a fan posted by Matthew Albach on the forums), or the later style which could be something like F-54.

Here's how the earlier SN G41783 breaks down:

G41 - Month and year code. G, being the 7th letter in the alphabet corresponds with July as the 7th month, with 41 being the year, so that tells me that this given fan was made in July of 1941.

783 - Basically the unit number, this is fan number 783 made in July of 1941.

And here's how the later SN F-54 breaks down:

F-54 - Month and year code. F being the 6th letter in the alphabet corresponds with June as the 6th month, with 54 being the year, so that tells me that this given fan was made in June of 1954.

Finding out when your Signal fan was made is as easy as that, however, if you do have questions or if your Serial Number is different I'm available on the forums to discuss it.

Author's conclusions and experiences

I've found that Signal is a rather under-appreciated brand in collectors circles; they are the Rodney Dangerfield of the fan collector world if you will. Having owned and run a few of these fans, I've found that they have their quirks, such as motors that get hot to the feel, but despite that, the fans are very good runners with a bit of TLC and maintenance. On the motor issue, I've found that as long as they run within spec, are well lubricated and are not emitting a "hot" or "burning" smell, that they will run fine for many years. I know people who run their Signal fans 24x7, hot feeling motors and all, with no ill effects.

The bottom line is that these fans are great runners when cared for (and in instances not cared for). I'd rather have a great runner than a great high dollar valued shelf queen.

As with any research of this type, it is never really complete. The catalog set I used to put this all together does have some years missing from it and it only goes up to 1956. If you have a Signal fan with a model number that is not discussed here or that does not show up in the Model List Database, please contact me with that information. I'd say what I have at this time probably provides about 90% of the Signal fans made.

I thank you for reading this and I hope you find it to be useful!

 
Edited/revised by Mike

2010 DT Vintage Fans