The vacuum cleaner revolutionized the way we clean our homes, and changed women’s lives forever. Women had the responsibility of managing household duties including the cumbersome job of keeping carpets and rugs clean, and the arrival of vacuum cleaners made that job a breeze.
Dust and dirt removal was a difficult job, and very often resulted in respiratory illnesses and allergies. Swirling dust made carpet cleaning a very messy job indeed.
Late 19th century saw several path-breaking scientific inventions which changed the way we live forever. There were ingenious minds trying to mechanise the laborious day-to-day activities, and harmonise and simplify life. The year 1889 marked the entry of electrical appliances into public lives and the massive transformation in the way people kept house.
Mechanization Paves the Way for Vacuum Cleaners
Vacuum cleaners have a long history dating back by more than a 100 years.
The attempts at mechanization began in early 1600s in England. The carpets and rugs were hung on a wall or on a line and pound by a specialised carpet beater to dislodge as much of the soils as possible.
The first patented mechanized carpet sweeper was made by Daniel Hess in Iowa, in the year 1860. Bellows were used to create a suction force and draw dirt into the mouthpiece of the sweeper. In 1869, McGaffey invented a cranky hand-pumped vacuum cleaner that despite being quite awkward to operate, garnered decent success in the market.
The Bissell carpet sweeper was invented in 1876 by Melville Bissell and Anna Bissell of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The wheels of the sweeper rotate a brush which agitates the dust on carpets and sweeps it inside the cleaner. The carpet sweeper was originally invented to make the crockery shop owned by the Bissells dust-free and less allergic to Melville. But soon the enterprising couple realised the market potential of their creation, and embarked on production and sale. The factory was established in 1883, and continues to be synonymous with vacuum cleaners the world over.
John Thurman of St.Louis, Missouri is credited with inventing the first motorised vacuum cleaner. His horse-drawn gasoline-powered vacuum services were priced at $4 per house visit in the year 1903.
Hubert Cecil Booth, a British engineer, tried to solve the problem of billowing dust in traditional designs by sucking it in through a filter which would collect the dust and keep it from circulating outside. His invention ‘Puffing Billy’ was gigantic and extremely loud, and was transported to homes using horse-drawn carriages. It was initially petrol-powered but Booth introduced electric-powered models also. He got royal patronage and cleaned up the Westminster Abbey prior to the coronation of Edward VII in 1901. But Booth’s products lost ground to Hoover’s onslaught but continued its dominance in the industrial cleaning market.
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Birth of Hoover Vacuum Cleaner
Around the same time James Spangler, a janitor at a department store in Ohio, was facing serious respiratory health issues and prolonged coughing due to his daily cleaning job. He deduced that his inefficient carpet cleaner is at the root of all problems, and can very well do with some tweaking.
His carpet cleaner consisted of an old fan motor which was attached to a soap box stapled to a broom handle. A pillow case was used as dust collector which collected the dust and prevented it from circulating in the air. It was a miraculous cure to Spangler’s incessant cough.
James Spangler was quite impressed with his product and thought of ways to sell it commercially. He also made minor improvements to the machine and added a cloth filter bag to collect dust and offered useful cleaning attachments also. He received a patent for his invention in 1908.
Spangler became aware of the immense marketing potential of his product. He formed the Electric Suction Sweeper Company, and one of his first buyers was his cousin who was bowled over by the new vacuum cleaner. Spangler was unable to exploit the full potential of his invention or make further improvements due to a lack of funds. He sold his patent to his cousin’s husband who went on to found the Hoover Company. Spangler continued to design for Hoover.
Initial sales were sluggish, but Hoover put his exceptional marketing skills into display and eventually there was a Hoover vacuum cleaner in nearly every American home. ‘It beats as it sweeps as it cleans’; the introduction of beater bar gave the company its time-honoured marketing slogan.
Vacuum Cleaners Reach Everywhere
Vacuum cleaners spread to all parts of the globe, especially to the well-off economies. Singapore saw all major brands come in towards the latter part of the 20th century.
Companies like Hitachi, Panasonic, Dyson, Philips, Delphin and Rainbow are leading the vacuum cleaner market in Singapore. Philips was an early entrant in Singapore, setting up a trading firm in the country in 1951 that sold imported products.
Young, time-strapped and working consumers in Singapore increasingly prefer to purchase robotic vacuum cleaners that have revolutionised the consumer electronics industry. But a growing population and increasing number of households will definitely see a continued growth in the sales of models as well.
The young working woman/man switches on the robotic vacuum cleaner as he or she rushes off to office in the morning. What greets them when they come back at night is a dust-free carpet. Many prefer to team up the vacuum cleaners with robotic mops that clean up tile floors which are still commonly seen in many homes.
If your home has beautiful carpets in every room, you might have to consider buying more than one robotic vacuum cleaner to cover the entire house. Dyson 360 Eye is the first robotic vacuum cleaner to be launched by the company, which reportedly aims to spend £4m a week on R&D this year.
Hoover, iRobot, Samsung, Neato and Vileda all offer robotic vacuum cleaners. Roomba from iRobot is arguably the most popular robotic model today.
Quantum leaps in technology have made all that were considered previously unlikely, realities of today. Early vacuum cleaners are unrecognisable to the modern day user. The latest developments do promise an exciting and thrilling future for all household appliances, which we can be sure, will arrive in no time.