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A Brief History of the Vacuum Cleaner

Long ago, in the ancient times of our primordial ancestors, our dwelling places were caves. There is proof that at that time, our humble dwellings were cleaned by brooms made of twigs. We’ve evolved since then.

Back in 1858, the carpet sweeper was introduced to America. The carpet sweeper had a rotating brush, triggered by the motion of its wheels; it had no suction capability.

A Brief History of the Vacuum Cleaner

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In the history of vacuum cleaners, 1869 was a revolutionary year, when the American Carpet Cleaning Company, along with the inventor of the “Whirlwind”, Ives W. McGaffey, introduced a non-electric vacuum which used fan for suction.

The user would have to manually crank a lever on its handle to power the fan. The next leap in the history of vacuum cleaners came in 1875, when a new model, with suction capability, entered the market. However, the crank mechanism still had to be used to power the brush and fan.

The history of vacuum cleaners reached another milestone when, in 1901, Herbert Cecil Bothe, a civil engineer, invented a machine that used an engine to draw dirt up into a filter, but his machine was enormous. In 1902, after hearing about Bothe’s machine, King Edward VII purchased two of them for use in Westminster abbey.

Recognition from King Edward VII guaranteed that his company would be successful and other firms began producing similar machines. The device evolved in 1905 when Skiner and Chapman invented the very first electric “portable” vacuum, weighing 92 lbs., with an 18 inch fan for suction. It was not very well received in the marketplace due to its size.

The Most Important Leap Forward in the History of Vacuum Cleaners

James Murray Spangler, a janitor, invented a smaller electric vacuum in 1907 and searched for a financier for his product. The evolution of the vacuum advanced in 1908, when he found a financial sponsor, W. H. Hoover, whose wife, a cousin of Spangler, was testing his machine.

It was a ground-breaking year in the history of vacuum cleaners. Hoover owned a leather manufacturing business at the time, where he and Spangler and six other employees began assembling the vacuums. It was in that year that Hoover’s Model O, a mere 40 pounds, was introduced to the marketplace.

Once again, the history of vacuum cleaners reached a turning point when Hoover released its Model 700 in 1926.

This model’s “positive agitation” utilized a stiff bar which could beat a carpet along with the roller brush to remove dirt from its surface. In the history of vacuum cleaners, the 1930s saw another advancement when the first synthetic (plastic) models were introduced to the marketplace. Some of the new models even had headlights.

Nearly twenty years later, in the 1950s, the upright models were introduced and propelled the history of vacuum cleaners to an entirely new era, until more innovations were developed in 1969, when the “self propelled vacuums” hit the marketplace. Since that time, there have been a number of different types of vacuum cleaners that have been developed for convenience and ease of use such as the backpack and bagless models.

Today’s Latest Gadget in the Evolution of the History of Vacuum Cleaners

The history of vacuum cleaners reached another pivotal point when the iRobot was introduced to the marketplace. The iRobot was a small circular model designed to be place in the middle of the room. It circled the floor, till it hit a wall, ran along the wall, and repeated the process till the room was vacuumed.

In the next sections we will have the history of the vacuum cleaner explained from year to year.


Based on US patent records, Hiram H. Herrick invented the first carpet sweeper. It wasn’t much of a success because it was complex to use and inefficient. US Patent 1079.


Daniel Hess patents his version of the carpet sweeper. It used bellows on top to produce suction and incorporated two water chambers to capture dirt. Unfortunately this wasn’t mass produced. US Patent 29077.


Ives W. McGaffey patents the “whirlwind” sweeping machine. It was difficult to use since one had to turn a crank and push at the same time. US Patent 91145.


Melvin Bissell developed a push powered sweeper he called the “Grand Rapids”. He invented this out of necessity to pick up saw dust off the carpet in their shop. US Patent 182346.


John Thurman develops a gasoline powered “pneumatic carpet renovator” that used compressed air instead of suction. Some historians considered this to be the first motorized vacuum cleaner. US Patent 634042.


Corinne Dufour invents the first electric carpet sweeper. It utilized wet sponges to pick up dirt and dust.


David T. Kenney applies for his first patent, the “Apparatus for Removing Dust” but it wasn’t granted until 1907. In total he received 9 patents between 1903 and 1913 that laid the groundwork for the American vacuum cleaner industry. US Patent 847947.


Hubert Cecil Booth invented the first electric cleaner that used suction which he later called “vacuum cleaner”. It was so big and heavy that it needed a horse drawn carriage to move around. UK Patent GB190117433. Hermans Bogenschild patented a “dust removing apparatus” that’s mounted on wheels. The motor was connected to a hose and filtration system. He filed for a patent in 1906 and was awarded the following year. US Patent 867006


Walter Griffiths invents the first portable vacuum cleaner. It was the first vacuum cleaner that had a flexible hose and a variety of nozzles for cleaning different parts of the house, these nozzles were interchangeable. Chapman and Skinner invents the moveable electric vacuum. Even though it was called “moveable” it tipped the scales at 92 pounds. Women couldn’t move this without the help of their husbands..


Jim Kirby designed his first Kirby vacuum that used water to separate dirt and cloth to filter out dirt. Then in 1907 unhappy with the difficultly in disposing dirty water he designed a system that used centrifugal action and cloth to filter out dirt..


James Murray Spangler patents the first portable electric suction cleaner. He later sold the patent to his cousin’s husband William “the boss” Hoover and became a partner in Hoover’s Electric Suction Sweeper Company US Patent 847947.


Detroit businessman Fred Wardell establishes the Eureka Vacuum Company One of the first manufacturers to offer lightweight and maneuverable vacuum cleaners that had helpful accessories to clean upholstery, walls and bare floors.


Charles Beach, Frederick Osius and Louis Hamilton developed a small motor that ran on AC or DC electrical power. This was a giant leap forward in the development of plug-in domestic appliances.


Jim Kirby agrees to design exclusively for George Scott and Carl Fetzer. This partnership produced some of the more innovative designs in the vacuum industry like the electric Vacuette model.


Air-Way Sanitizor introduced the first vacuum cleaner that used a disposable bag.


Gustaf Sahlin introduced the Electrolux tank vacuum cleaner in the United States. It became an overnight success and its unique design set the standard for excellence.


Hoover developed positive agitation that increased dirt removal efficiency. These metal beater bars have said to increase carpet cleaning efficiency by am percent.


The first plastic vacuum cleaners was introduced in the market. Later on, headlights were added to in some higher-end models.


Scott and Fetzer introduced the Kirby Model C, it was the first vacuum that carries Jim Kirby’s name. This was a first in a long line of products to carry Jim Kirby’s name.


The first convertible upright line of vacuums was introduced to the market.


Hoover introduced a vacuum that floats like a hovercraft a.k.a. the Constellation. Instead of using wheels, it “floats” on a cushion of air that comes from its exhaust. Hoover stopped production in 1975 but has since re-released an updated version.


David Oreck starts manufacturing upright vacuum cleaners for the hotel industry. His idea was to produce lightweight yet powerful vacuums that house-helpers would prefer over heavier models made by other brands.


The first self-propelled vacuums hit the market. Hoover was the first to market these types of vacuums cleaners.


James Dyson got to work and built over 5000 (5,127 to be exact) prototypes before perfecting it 5 years later. Dyson vacuums was the first to use the bagless technology in a market that was dominated by bagged vacuums.


Black and Decker introduces the first cordless hand-held dust-buster designed by Carroll Gantz. This was their most successful product ever with over loo million units sold.


The idea of a robotic vacuum cleaner has been around since 1996.

Inventor James Dizon developed an automated vacuum cleaner that could operate without human intervention.

His goal was to make housework easier and more efficient by developing a device capable of performing all cleaning tasks on its own

Electrolux was one of the first companies to recognize this new and exciting concept, as they quickly began producing vacuum cleaners with an emphasis on futuristic designs.

Swedish manufacture Electrolux unveiled the Trilobite in BBC’s Tomorrow’s World. This was the worlds’ first autonomous cordless robotic vacuum cleaner.


Helen Greiner and her colleagues iRobot introduce Roomba. it was a hit, earning a seal of approval, even Oprah Winfrey added it to her list of “favorite things”.


British inventor Jake Tyler develops the world’s first vacuum cleaner made from cardboard as his final degree project at the Vax HQ. His invention impressed vacuum manufacturer Vax so much that they hired Jake and have put this into production.

The History of the Production of Vacuum Cleaners

The science behind the production of vacuum cleaners is a few centuries old. As early as 1698, when Thomas Savery trademarked the steam engine, he created a vacuum while trying to figure out how to pump water from mines. In 1712,

Thomas Newcomen used a vacuum to run the atmospheric steam engine. From these early beginnings, came the science behind the vacuum cleaner.

Early Versions of the Vacuum Cleaner

The production of vacuum cleaners was an important technology to many designers. In 1868, Ives W. McGaffey created the Whirlwind vacuum cleaner.

Although it was lightweight and small, it was hard to use because a person was required to use a hand crank while pushing the vacuum around. Its cost was $25, which was considered very expensive in those days.

Corinne Dufour, received the patent for an electric carpet sweeper and dust gatherer in 1900. Soon afterwards, H. Cecil Booth trademarked a filter system for vacuums. In 1905, Walter Griffiths created a small and mobile vacuum that used a bellows system for suction with a removable pipe for which there were nozzle accessories for different cleaning jobs.

It was called “Griffith’s Improved Vacuum Apparatus for Removing Dust from Carpets”. The design and production of vacuum cleaners did not slow down.

David T. Kenney received nine patents for his vacuum inventions and, in 1919, he founded the “Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers’ Association”. James Spangler designed a vacuum using a pillowcase, fan and a box.

He developed a rotating brush accessory which he trademarked in 1908 and at a later time sold to “Hoover Harness and Leather Goods Factory”. In 1951, Hoover released a hovercraft style vacuum that floated on the exhaust of its engine and these remain a collectors product.

Vacuum Engine is Standardized

During the 1950s, the design of the engine became standardized and the same engine type was used until 1980. Wheels were added for rolling the canister bodies and the handles were redesigned for easier handling. After WWII, vacuums became available to everyone.

Varieties of Vacuum Cleaner Styles

Modern technology has added to the production of vacuum cleaners. There are now varieties of vacuum styles suitable for everyone. Styles include upright, canister, wet vacuums, dry vacuums, small, hand held, specialty, central vacuums, robotic and drum.

Important developments in vacuum cleaner technology include the HEPA filtering method, bagless and cyclonic action. In 2000, robotic vacuum cleaners hit the market. Robotic vacuums can clean an area by themselves by moving in patterns across a floor and most are for private homes.

Another recent development, in 2004, brought back the hovering vacuum. This hovering vacuum called the Airider, was created by a British company and is compact and light.

It will be fascinating to see how much the production of vacuum cleaners will continue to evolve in the modern age. People will always want to clean their floors and the vacuum cleaner has proven to be such a useful tool that it is not likely that the design and production of vacuum cleaners will ever end.

For nearly a hundred years since its invention, the vacuum cleaner has become an important utility in the housekeeping arsenal. In oriental countries, a broom is used to sweep the house everyday, more as a ritual than as an efficient cleaning tool.

Having said that, western countries adopted the vacuum cleaner designed to dislodge and draw out the tiniest of dust particles/debris from any nook and cranny in the home/office.

The vacuum works just as when you take in a soft drink using a straw; only, the vacuum cleaner features with greater suction force. When you suck in a soft drink through a straw, you create a low pressure zone in your mouth.

This makes the pressure relatively higher on the soft drink inside the can, forcing the soft drink up the straw into your mouth. The tornado (twister) is another example to visualize the force with which the vacuum cleaner aspirates/sucks in air. You must have seen huge objects being sucked up the funnel of a tornado. The end result is the same in a vacuum cleaner.

A traditional/conventional/upright vacuum cleaner is upright with its components assembled in this order: brushes, intake vent, fan blades, cleaning bag and exhaust vent. The brushes are located at the intake vent and rotate at high speed.

When the brushes come into contact with a dirty carpet, they dislodge the dust/debris through friction. Next, powerful, high-speed fan blades placed behind the intake vent, suck in this dust/debris with the help of a cleaning bag (a filter, usually located behind the fan blades), which filters the dust/dirt/allergens.

The filtered air at last exits the vacuum cleaner through an exhaust vent located behind the cleaning bag.

With technology evolving continuously, lighter, easy to use, efficient, economical and location-specific vacuum cleaners of different size and shape are entering the market to give you greater cleaning effectiveness and satisfaction.

How to Choose Vacuum Cleaner?

While selecting a vacuum cleaner, first decide on which type you’d need – an upright or canister, a bagged or a bagless vacuum cleaner. It should have a regulator for carpet level adjustment. Further, switches for all operations should be conveniently located, and a swiveling base for 360° rotation.

Check the piping system for air leaks. Purchase one having a built-in hose because you could pump water through a garden hose attached to the vacuum cleaner. If you prefer a canister vacuum, one with at least 25 feet of automatic retractable cord will be convenient for storage; also, ensure it features an adjustable telescopic wand that can reach high (ceiling) and difficult-to-reach places (below furniture & corners); a blower mechanism will be a good addition.

Check the list of standard accessories that you need for your favored vacuum cleaner.

If you live in a large home, a large-sized vacuum cleaner will help forestall frequent emptying of the cleaning bag, which is time-wasting. Further, your vacuum cleaner should be light or equipped with good quality wheels to move quickly from one room to another.

It should have a suitable range of suction forces for different locations in your home/office. A vacuum cleaner with a single high suction force can destroy carpets. Next, make sure that your vacuum cleaner has a reliable and powerful filtering method (preferably located before the air reaches the fan blades) to ensure catch of all dust/dirt/allergens by the cleaning bag (filter) before the air re-enters room circulation.

The filtering method is particularly critical to families having allergies or breathing issues. An ordinary/mediocre vacuum cleaner can only filter particles 30 microns in size. Choose a High effectiveness Particle Air (HEPA) vacuum cleaner with AAFA (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) clearance.

It might guarantee 99.97% filtration of 0.3 micron-sized particles. Lastly, select one having 5-year-warranty for the engine, and at least one year for other parts.

If you have any questions or comments, please add them below in the comment section. Similarly, please let us know if you spot any mistakes or omissions. Thanks!

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About the author

Hi I’m Alex, founder of HouseholdMe.com and I’d like to say thank you for dropping by. Like most of you, the first thing I look at before buying something online is reviews or buying guides. By reading what other people say will help me gauge whether or not a product is good or not.  I am trying to help people find answers, solve problems, and get inspired.

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