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Living: The Evolution Of Vacuum Cleaners

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By James Menta

A vacuum cleaner is one of those things that we take for granted and never imagine what our lives would be like without them. But, today, we take a trip down the memory lane, from the carpet sweepers and hand operated cleaning machines to the modern high-end vacs.

The evolution of vacuum cleaners has been a fascinating journey and is worth digging into.

Early Day Carpet Sweepers

The efforts for manufacturing devices to clean carpets started during the 1860s. The years in and around the decade saw carpet sweepers designed and patented by different inventors. These designs were mechanical in nature and were operated by hand. These earliest form of vacuum cleaners applied suction by using a piston or bellows, or they used rotated brushes to clean carpets.

They were labor intensive, requiring substantial effort from more than one person to be operated and were not efficient. Hiram Herrick and Daniel Hess are among the earliest inventors of carpet sweepers with the later patenting a suction based carpet sweeper in 1860.

Whirlwind was another carpet sweeper whose design was credited to Ives MacGaffey. It was constructed using wood and canvas and required the operator to rotate a crank and create the suction effect.

Dawn of powered vacuum cleaners

The dawn of the twentieth century was accompanied by the emergence of earliest designs of powered vacuum cleaners.

Pneumatic Carpet Renovator

A design for carpet cleaning machine, which was more of a wagon cleaner than a vacuum cleaner, was patented by John Thurman.

It was classified as a pneumatic carpet renovator that did not employ suction mechanism. Instead, it blew dust off the carpet into a container. The source of power for it was an internal combustion engine that used fuel derived from petroleum.

The carpet renovator was bulky and required a horse wagon to move it around. It was available for hire for people looking to get their carpets cleaned and provided services door to door.

Earliest Electric Carpet Sweeper

The early years of the 19th century saw the introduction of electric motors to the world of vacuums. A carpet sweeper that employed an electric motor to blow dust off the surface of carpets was designed by Corrine Dufour who was granted copyright for the design in 1899 and 1900. To remove the dirt, it used wet sponges.

Electricity powered suction vacuum cleaners

There were multiple inventors across the globe that designed vacuum cleaners which were based on suction mechanism rather than blowing off dust from the carpet. Puffing Billy invented by Hubert Cecil Booth made use of a fuel powered combustion engine just like John Thurman’s design but it sucked dust by making use of a filter made from cloth.

It was hefty in size and required a horse to move it around. The Puffing Billy was quite popular around England and even found favors with the royal household.

David Kenney was another inventor who had a vacuum cleaner that was powered by a steam engine and sucked dust but was installed in a building instead of being ported around. Suction pipes from the apparatus were fitted into different parts of building for cleaning purposes.

Kenney’s cleaning equipment became a common sight in houses of different high-profile people around America. He also designed a nozzle that was used extensively by various other manufacturers of vacuum cleaner.

Portable vacuum cleaners

With portability being a major issue in vacuum cleaners, design refinements were made during the first decade of the nineteenth century to improve the units. The creation of first mobile vacuum is attributed to Walter Griffiths, an inventor in England.

He designed it in 1905 and made the machine easy to carry around and store. It could be operated by a single person by using compression for sucking dust via a hose. It even came with multiple nozzle attachments for a variety of cleaning purposes.

Another vacuum that made use of an electric motor was designed by Champman and Skinner. The machine used of 18” fan for sucking up dirt. It was designed to be portable but was quite heavy and hard to work with.

Hoover Vacuum Cleaner

James Spangler was a guy who was least expected to make a significant contribution to the legacy of vacuum cleaners but he had a huge impact on the industry. While working as a janitor at a departmental store, he put together a unit using a fan motor, a broomstick, a tin box and a pillow case.

An intelligent use of a brush that loosened the dust in the carpet by rotating made the design revolutionary and he patented it as an electric suction sweeper and tried to manufacture and sell them. But being cash-strapped, he sold the patent to the husband of his cousin, William Hoover.

The design was improved upon by William Hoover by making use of better techniques and materials for building. The Hoover company was a commercial success and its legacy still lives on today.

Modern day evolution of vacuum cleaning technologies

Dirtbags and HEPA filters

As the vacuum cleaner became popular, companies strived to further improve their designs. Th Air-way Sanitizor Company made use of disposable dirtbags and also publicized HEPA filter on vacuum cleaners. It is credited with power nozzle vacuum cleaner design too.

The Cordless Dustbuster

Black and Decker’s cordless and handheld vacuum cleaner ushered in a new era for the brand and vacuum cleaner industry as a whole with its launch. These found their best use for smaller jobs around the house and are especially handy for car detailing.

The best of cordless car vacuums include a number of add-ons and accessories to suck out the most stubborn of stains, dust and debris. You can read more in the complete guide on top car vacs.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaners

The industry that in its early days required up to two persons to move around a less than efficient vacuuming device, experienced a paradigm shift in the year 1997 with Electrolux revealing the Tribolite, a fully automatic vacuum cleaner. Following the trend was iRobot that introduced their Roomba vacuum cleaner to the world in 2002.

In today’s modernized world, there is spectacular improvement in the design of vacuum cleaners as well as the convenience of using them. The evolution of vacuum cleaners has been ongoing for more than a century and the technology has certainly come a long way from where it started.


If you had the patience to actually read the article in full and learn the fascinating history of vacuums, you’ll never take these friendly sidekicks for granted again.

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