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The History of the Vacuum Cleaner

By on April 27, 2013 in Articles with 0 Comments

Vacuum cleaners are a staple of households across the world but they have not been around as long you might think. Vacuum cleaners first made their appearance in the 1860s and have evolved from large, cumbersome machines that took two people to operate to domestic robots that sweep and vacuum your floors for you. Vacuum cleaners have certainly developed into a must-have for every home to keep the house clean. These machines can not only clean carpets but handheld devices can clean windows, blinds, and even the inside of your car. No matter how technology advances, vacuum cleaners will continue to be a part of everyday life.

The first vacuum cleaner was developed by Daniel Hess of the U.S. in 1860. He called the device a carpet sweeper and it served as the prototype for later models of vacuum cleaners. This machine had a rotating brush but also had an advanced bellows in order to create the suction to pick up dust and dirt. A few years later, in 1868, the first device to be actually called a vacuum cleaner was the Whirlwind invented by Ives W. McGaffey of Chicago. This device was difficult to use because someone had to pull the hand crank while pushing it across the floor. Two people had to operate it despite it being lightweight and more compact. It was sold for $25 by the American Carpet Cleaning Company.

The next vacuum maker to come along was Bissell in 1876. Melville Bissell created a manual carpet sweeper for his wife. After her husband’s death, Anna kept the company and developed it into what it is today – a leader in the vacuum cleaner industry. The 1900s saw an explosion in vacuum cleaning technology. In 1901, Cecil Booth from England designed a vacuum cleaner that was powered by a motor that took fuel. This motor was later turned into one that ran on electricity. His original device was called a Puffing Billy and it was a horse-drawn vacuum cleaner that used tubes with nozzles for sucking up dirt. The vacuum cleaner was extremely noisy and had to be used through a house’s windows.

The vacuum cleaner industry was still going strong in the United States with the formation of the Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturer’s Association in 1919. James Murray Spangler from the U.S. is credited with inventing the first practical vacuum cleaner that was portable. In 1907, Spangler came up with a device that used a box, an electric fan, and a pillowcase. His design also included a brush that rotated to loosen up dirt. A year later, Spangler sold his design because he did not have the money to manufacture his machines. He sold it to a relative, William Henry Hoover. Hoover improved upon his design by adding a steel casing and attachments.

That was the beginning of vacuum cleaner giant. Hoover started out as the Electric Suction Sweeper Company and has been a leading producer of household goods, including vacuum cleaners, for decades. Hoover profited immensely from the vacuum cleaner and the name has become synonymous with the device. In the U.S. Hoover was part of the Whirlpool Corporation, and it has been one of the few companies to implement the latest technology into their vacuum designs. Their first model was the Model O in 1908 and which sold for $60. Other popular models of Hoovers include the Model 29, the Veriflex, and the Dial-A-Matic. Hoover has created everything from steam vacuums and upright vacuums to hovercraft vacuums.

Despite the leaps and bounds of technology in vacuum cleaners, the devices remained a luxury item. It was not until after World War II that vacuum cleaners became more accessible to the middle class. Vacuum cleaners have been popular because of the widespread use of carpeting, especially in western countries. The latter half of the twentieth century saw the development of a wide variety of vacuum cleaners. Vacuum cleaners can be found in a variety of styles. Upright vacuum cleaners are popular, and they work on the principle of collecting dirt through both vibration and sweeping. The dirt is collected into a bag or container that can be emptied when full.

Another popular variety of vacuum cleaners, especially in Europe, is the canister or cylinder model. This model has the motor and dust collector in a separate unit and the vacuum head is connected to it by a long hose. These vacuums are mounted on wheels. Not only are they more maneuverable but they are also incredibly flexible. Many commercial cleaners use backpack vacuums in which the operate straps the canister onto his or her back and carries the hose in hand. Handheld vacuums are good for hard-to-reach places and have been around since the late 1970s and early 1980s. Both Black and Decker and Dirt Devil have been leaders in handheld vacuums.

The early twenty-first century has seen the development of robotic vacuums that are self-powered. These devices move back and forth across a floor while they collect dirt and debris into a dustbin. Machines like these from Roomba, Dyson, and Intellibot, are powered by batteries and have to recharge. They can also maneuver around furniture. Vacuum cleaners have come a long way from using bellows to suck up dirt. No matter where vacuum cleaning technology goes from here, they will most likely remain a mainstay of households.


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