22 July 2015

Vacuum cleaner

The invention:

The first portable domestic vacuum cleaner successfully
adapted to electricity, the original machine helped begin
the electrification of domestic appliances in the early twentieth

The people behind the invention:

H. Cecil Booth (1871-1955), a British civil engineer
Melville R. Bissell (1843-1889), the inventor and marketer of the
Bissell carpet sweeper in 1876
William Henry Hoover (1849-1932), an American industrialist
James Murray Spangler (1848-1915), an American inventor

From Brooms to Bissells

During most of the nineteenth century, the floors of homes
were cleaned primarily with brooms. Carpets were periodically
dragged out of the home by the boys and men of the family,
stretched over rope lines or fences, and given a thorough beating
to remove dust and dirt. In the second half of the century, carpet
sweepers, perhaps inspired by the success of street-sweepingmachines,
began to appear. Although there were many models, nearly
all were based upon the idea of a revolving brush within an outer
casing that moved on rollers or wheels when pushed by a long
Melville Bissell’s sweeper, patented in 1876, featured a knob for
adjusting the brushes to the surface. The Bissell Carpet Company,
also formed in 1876, became the most successful maker of carpet
sweepers and dominated the market well into the twentieth century.
Electric vacuum cleaners were not feasible until homes were
wired for electricity and the small electric motor was invented.
Thomas Edison’s success with an incandescent lighting system in
the 1880’s and Nikola Tesla’s invention of a small electric motor
that was used in 1889 to drive aWestinghouse Electric Corporation
fan opened the way for the application of electricity to household

Cleaning with Electricity

In 1901, H. Cecil Booth, a British civil engineer, observed a London
demonstration of an American carpet cleaner that blew compressed
air at the fabric. Booth was convinced that the process
should be reversed so that dirt would be sucked out of the carpet. In
developing this idea, Booth invented the first successful suction
vacuum sweeper.
Booth’s machines, which were powered by gasoline or electricity,
worked without brushes. Dust was extracted by means of a
suction action through flexible tubes with slot-shaped nozzles.
Some machines were permanently installed in buildings that had
wall sockets for the tubes in every room. Booth’s British Vacuum
Cleaner Company also employed horse-drawn mobile units from
which white-uniformed men unrolled long tubes that they passed
into buildings through windows and doors. His company’s commercial
triumph came when it cleanedWestminster Abbey for the
coronation of Edward VII in 1902. Booth’s company also manufactured
a 1904 domestic model that had a direct-current electric motor
and a vacuum pump mounted on a wheeled carriage. Dust was
sucked into the nozzle of a long tube and deposited into a metal
container. Booth’s vacuum cleaner used electricity from overhead
light sockets.
The portable electric vacuum cleaner was invented in 1907 in the
United States by James Murray Spangler. When Spangler was a janitor
in a department store in Canton, Ohio, his asthmatic condition
was worsened by the dust he raised with a large Bissell carpet
sweeper. Spangler’s modifications of the Bissell sweeper led to his
own invention. On June 2, 1908, he received a patent for his Electric
Suction Sweeper. The device consisted of a cylindrical brush in the
front of the machine, a vertical-shaft electric motor above a fan in
the main body, and a pillowcase attached to a broom handle behind
the main body. The brush dislodged the dirt, which was sucked into
the pillowcase by the movement of air caused by a fan powered by
the electric motor. Although Spangler’s initial attempt to manufacture
and sell his machines failed, Spangler had, luckily for him, sold
one of his machines to a cousin, Susan Troxel Hoover, the wife of
William Henry Hoover.

The Hoover family was involved in the production of leather
goods, with an emphasis on horse saddles and harnesses. William
Henry Hoover, president of the Hoover Company, recognizing that
the adoption of the automobile was having a serious impact on the
family business, was open to investigating another area of production.
In addition, Mrs. Hoover liked the Spangler machine that she
had been using for a couple of months, and she encouraged her husband
to enter into an agreement with Spangler. An agreement made
on August 5, 1908, allowed Spangler, as production manager, to
manufacture his machine with a small work force in a section of
Hoover’s plant. As sales of vacuum cleaners increased, what began
as a sideline for the Hoover Company became the company’s main
line of production.
Few American homes were wired for electricity when Spangler
and Hoover joined forces; not until 1920 did 35 percent of American
homes have electric power. In addition to this inauspicious fact, the
first Spangler-Hoover machine, the Model O, carried the relatively
high price of seventy-five dollars. Yet a full-page ad for the ModelO
in the December, 1908, issue of the Saturday Evening Post brought a
deluge of requests. American women had heard of the excellent performance
of commercial vacuum cleaners, and they hoped that the
Hoover domestic model would do as well in the home.


As more and more homes in the United States and abroad became
wired for electric lighting, a clean and accessible power
source became available for household technologies. Whereas electric
lighting was needed only in the evening, the electrification of
household technologies made it necessary to use electricity during
the day. The electrification of domestic technologies therefore
matched the needs of the utility companies, which sought to maximize
the use of their facilities. They became key promoters of electric
appliances. In the first decades of the twentieth century, many
household technologies became electrified. In addition to fans and
vacuum cleaners, clothes-washing machines, irons, toasters, dishwashing
machines, refrigerators, and kitchen ranges were being
powered by electricity.
The application of electricity to household technologies came as
large numbers of women entered the work force. During and after
WorldWar I, women found new employment opportunities in industrial
manufacturing, department stores, and offices. The employment
of women outside the home continued to increase throughout the
twentieth century. Electrical appliances provided the means by which
families could maintain the same standards of living in the home while
both parents worked outside the home.
It is significant that Bissell was motivated by an allergy to dust
and Spangler by an asthmatic condition. The employment of the
carpet sweeper, and especially the electric vacuum cleaner, not only
made house cleaning more efficient and less physical but also led to
a healthier home environment. Whereas sweeping with a broom
tended only to move dust to a different location, the carpet sweeper
and the electric vacuum cleaner removed the dirt from the house.

H. Cecil Booth

Although Hubert Cecil Booth (1871-1955), an English civil
engineer, designed battleship engines, factories, and bridges, he
was not above working on homier problems when they intrigued
him. That happened in 1900 when he watched the demonstration
of a device that used forced air to blow the dirt out of
railway cars. It worked poorly, and the reason, it seemed to
Booth, was that blowing just stirred up the dirt. Sucking it into a
receptacle, he thought, would work better. He tested his idea by
placing a wet cloth over furniture upholstery and sucking through
it. The grime that collected on the side of the cloth facing the upholstery
proved him right.
He built his first vacuum cleaner—a term that he coined—in
1901. It cleaned houses, but only with considerable effort. Measuring
54 inches by 42 inches by 10 inches, it had to be carried in
a horse-driven van to the cleaning site. A team of workmen
from Booth’s Vacuum Cleaner Company then did the cleaning
with hoses that reached inside the house through windows and
doors. Moreover, the machine cost the equivalent of more than
fifteen hundred dollars. It was beyond the finances and physical
powers of home owners.
Booth marketed the first successful British one-person vacuum
cleaner, the Trolley-Vac, in 1906. Weighing one hundred
pounds, it was still difficult to wrestle into position, but it came
with hoses and attachments that made possible the cleaning of
different types of surfaces and hard-to-reach areas.

See also : Disposable razor; Electric refrigerator; Microwave cooking;


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