The Messy & Chaotic History of Vacuum Cleaners

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Mark Johnson
Vacuum Cleaner Expert
Last Updated: 15 Sep 2020
(Rated from 1995 reviews)

If cleanliness is next to godliness, then vacuums are a religious necessity. The noisy, awkwardly-shaped device performs the mundane task of sucking up all the grime in your house with accuracy and efficiency.

While the modern vacuums are multi-billion dollar businesses, you’ll be stunned to learn that the device’s basic design and performance might not have changed much in the last century.

With that, here’s a brief history of the evolution of vacuums, some of the brilliant minds behind it, and how they were incredibly designed to help suck away our household dilemmas.

Vacuum Cleaner History

Vacuums aren’t modern devices (their designs date from the 19th century), and they required more than 100 years to become a part of every household. Today most people live healthier due to their fantastic features and capabilities.  

First Vacuum

Vacuum Cleaner Inventors

The brilliant minds behind the vacuum designs were from various backgrounds. Some were ordinary engineers, and others were simply janitors. Nevertheless, that didn’t prevent them from being the fantastic inventors they were.

Vacuum Cleaner Facts

There were numerous variants of vacuums throughout history. They all worked on similar guidelines and principles, but they approached them from various angles. Some focused on efficiency, others paid attention to the noise levels, while others concentrated on health.

Vacuum Cleaner Making

Hoovers are products of the Industrial Revolution. They came into the market as a solution to air pollution1 issues that the revolution caused, but they couldn’t do without.  

Industrial Revolution Factory

A Brief Vacuum Cleaner History

The broom was the first step in the vacuum cleaner invention. There are examples of these tools dating back to 2000BC.

However, until the 1790s, the broom wasn’t as useful as it might be in most countries today because its bristles weren’t quite right. It was too soft, and due to that, it failed to pick up anything.

It wasn’t until a farmer altered the bristles that people used, that the broom became the household success it is today.

Even though brushes were somewhat useful, they didn’t make cleaning easier. With that in mind, brilliant inventors like the famous Daniel Hess decided to introduce better machines into the market. Therefore, in 1860, Daniel Hess paved the way for modern vacuums by introducing the first mechanical device for cleaning floors, a “carpet sweeper.” The sweeper featured a rotating brush2  and bellows, which created suction.

After that, in 1869, Ives W. McGaffe went ahead and introduced the “Whirlwind,” which had a belt-driven fan that was powered by manually turning it.

John S. Thurman, in 1898, also joined the league of inventors and gifted the human race with the gasoline-powered cleaner that was so massive that it had to be horse-drawn. It didn’t create a vacuum, for obvious reasons, but it blew the air and “cleaned” like that.

Hubert Cecil Booth of England invented the first modern-day-like vacuum in 1901. He was motivated by a demonstration of Thurman’s device at the Empire Music Hall in London so much that he gave the idea a try. Booth placed a handkerchief on a restaurant’s seat, put his mouth on the cloth, and sucked the air in. When he saw how much dirt and dust gathered on the handkerchief, he knew, deep down, that his idea had merit.

Booth’s vacuum featured an internal combustion motor that powered a piston pump that pulled air through a cloth filter. A horse pulled the whole device, and people named it “Puffing Billy.” It was gigantic, and it couldn’t enter standard-sized buildings. So, Booth decided only to insert its tubes through the windows. His next model primarily worked on electric power, but it also had the downside of being too huge and not suitable for individual homeowners. Thus, most people decided to use it as a cleaning service or install it in the building.

Walter Griffiths invented the first-ever cleaning device that people used as a vacuum cleaner and that most people could easily carry around in 1905. It used bellows to lift all the dirt and dust. It also featured a flexible pipe that helped with suction.

James B. Kirby also joined the long line of vacuums inventors, and he designed a device in 1906, called the “Domestic Cyclone,” which used water for debris separation instead of a filter.

The first portable vacuum that featured a motor was a brilliant brainchild of James Murray Spangler, a janitor from Canton, Ohio, which he invented in 1907. The hoover had a rotating brush, an electric fan, a box, and a dust bag (for which James used one of his wife’s pillowcases).

He had no initial capital to start the production of his idea, and he thus he opted to sell the patent to William Henry Hoover in 1908. Hoover redesigned it by placing it in a steel box and designing accessories for the hose. He later added disposal filter bags and created the first upright vacuum in 1926.

Vacuums were a luxury item that only the wealthy could afford, but after the Second World War, most people in the middle class could afford it. With time, these impressive devices slowly became a part of many households.

Today, we have many various types of vacuums. Some use filters while others trap dirt, pet hair, pollen, and dust via cyclonic separation like the bissell pet hair eraser. Some can even collect liquids – the wet/dry vacuums. There are superior variations with more power and small, hand-held vacs, power-driven by batteries.

Modern Vacuums

The Fisker and Nielsen Company in Denmark was the first firm to sell vacuums in Continental Europe in the 1980s. The design was lightweight with a mass of about 17.5 kilograms, and therefore only one person could operate it.

In 1921, Electrolux, a Swedish company, introduced its model. It allowed the machine to clean any type of flooring using two thin metal runners.

Later on, in 1930, Vorwerk, a German company, began marketing its vacuum cleaner model, which the company used direct sales to sell.

The Air-way Sanitizor Company in Toledo introduced the ‘filter-fiber’ bag that was disposable, an innovation that paved the way for the first disposable dust bag. In 1926, the company went ahead to invent the 2-motor upright vacuum, which was the first of its kind and the ‘power-nozzle’ hoover. According to the company’s website, Air-Way Sanitizor became the first company to feature a seal on the dust bag, as well as the forerunner of HEPA filters on vacuums. read this article about 6 Things You Should Never Do With a Vacuum Cleaner.

Portable Vacuum Cleaners    

In the 1990s, portable vacuums that were using the cyclonic separation principle were the most popular. The code mainly involved the separation of dirt and debris, and they were popular with the central vacuums.

Cyclone Vacuums

In 1983, James Dyson introduced the G-force vacuum cleaner, which was the first dual cyclone machine without a dust cup.3  His invention didn’t successfully sell among manufacturers, so he started his own company. Following the marketing failure, James Dyson decided to launch the cyclone cleaner in Japan in the 1980s, setting it at the cost of around $1800.

He marketed the Dyson Dual Cyclone(DC01), making it the fastest-selling vacuum to have ever been manufactured in the UK, and going for about £200. However, unlike most newly released products, critics didn’t expect it to sell because of the high price, which was double the cost of a conventional vacuum.

Robot Vacuum

Robotic Vacuums

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, some companies came up with the incredible robotic vacuums that featured limited suction power. Some of these early brands included Bobsweep, Neato, and iRoomba.

Robotic vacuums, according to experts and vacuum cleaner consumers, made life comfortable and easier, especially considering the fast-paced nature of the world today. robot vacuum and mop can effortlessly move autonomously and collect dust and debris while emptying it into a dirt bin.

Neato Robotics, in December 2009, introduced the first robotic device in the world, which can successfully scan and map its environs and then maneuver your floors, clearing up every mess like a pro. The map allows the device to vacuum your floors and carpets methodically, though it, from to time, needs to go back to the base to recharge.

These funny-shaped and somewhat noisy contraptions can clean up any mess in just a few seconds flat, thanks to their powerful suction and other impressive features. However, if you don’t know about their messy history, then you might not fully appreciate these systems today. So before you head on to shop for one for your family, be sure to read through the history of vacuums, and you’ll be grateful for that robotic vacuum cleaner or canister vac cleaning your carpets without a hassle.

Common Questions

Who First Invented The Vacuum Cleaner?
What Was The First Vacuum Cleaner?
Who Invented The Vacuum Cleaner In 1920?
How Did The Vacuum Cleaner Change The World?

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Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

Mark advises business, individuals, and organizations on how to use and get the best purifiers so as to maintain their offices and homes. For a fresher and cleaner environment, he is the man for you. He loves ideas and concepts and uses his skills to make them a reality.

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