The vast majority of households in Europe rely on the humble vacuum cleaner for clean and dust-free floors. This ubiquitous domestic appliance has evolved a great deal over the years — despite the fact that the main principle behind its operation is the same today as it was more than a century ago.
Like any of the great technological innovations, the vacuum cleaner has a fascinating history — and here are some of the highlights.
1. The first known vacuum cleaner was invented in Iowa, USA
The first known incarnation of an air-dependent cleaner was invented by a carpet sweeper in 1860. Daniel Hess invented a machine in his Iowa workshop that gathered dust using a rotating brush. A set of hand-pumped bellows was used to create the blow dust into a bag, rather than suck it.
2. The first feasible vacuum cleaner was invented in Britain
Hubert Cecil Booth is widely regarded as the first engineer to use suction instead of blowing to remove dirt and dust from floors. His “Puffing Billy” created suction by pumping air through cloth. Booth’s design was powered by a horse-drawn combustion engine, while a similar device created by David T. Kenney in America utilised steam power.
Both models required at least two people to operate them.
3. The first powered cleaning machine is much older
The very first powered cleaning machine was actually invented in America by John S. Thurman. This huge machine was so cumbersome it had to be carried around on a horse-drawn wagon. It was during a demonstration of Thurman’s “pneumatic carpet renovator” (which blew rather than sucked) that Hubert Cecil Booth got the inspiration for his own machine.
4. The first vacuum cleaners sold in Britain went to royalty
Once Booth had perfected his design, he made them available for sale. The first two were bought by Lord Chamberlain. One ended up in Buckingham Palace, and the other in Windsor Castle.
5. The vacuum cleaner has a cousin
During the 1920s, the principle behind Booth’s vacuum cleaner was used to develop the first hooded blow dryers in hair salons.
6. The first mass-produced vacuum cleaner was developed in Britain
Walter Griffiths created a portable and affordable vacuum cleaner in Birmingham. He marketed his invention to the domestic market in England. It was the first vacuum cleaner to resemble the upright versions we use today, but it never really took off in a big way.
7. The modern vacuum cleaner was perfected by a store cleaner
In 1908, a store cleaner in Ohio invented the world’s first portable electric vacuum cleaner. The “Electric Suction Sweeper” utilised an electric fan to create suction, and a pillowcase to collect dirt and dust. James Murray Spangler even added a rotating brush to dislodge debris before it was sucked up. Not bad for a department store janitor!
8. The vacuum cleaner was perfected by someone else
James Murray Spangler simply didn’t have the resources to bring his invention to the mass market. After patenting his design, he sold it to William Henry Hoover. The Electric Suction Sweeper Company was born, and it modified Spangler’s design with attachments, casters and a steel casing. Interestingly, Spangler continued to work with Hoover, and played a major role in the development of new brush designs. Upon Spangler’s death in 1915, the company’s name was changed to The Hoover Company.
9. A new verb was introduced to the English language
The Hoover Company was the first to make the electric vacuum cleaner appeal to mass markets around the world. During the 1920s and 1930s, Hoover sold its range throughout North America, Europe and Asia — and eventually became synonymous with the vacuum cleaner. It wasn’t long before “hoover” became a verb in the Oxford English Dictionary. Indeed, “hoovering” is still a word millions of people use today.