10 Things About Vacuum Cleaners

I have two sons. They love dinosaurs. One of their favorite games in the backyard is to dig holes to “excavate fossils” while pretending to be paleontologists. They have discovered and named many new species of dinosaurs in our backyard to date.

I encourage their imaginations and their love of science. Unfortunately, my carpet often pays the price. They track in dirt on their shoes, on their clothes, in their hair, under their fingernails, and–as in a recent case–sometimes they just plain ol’ carry in big chunks of it to further examine after they’ve been told to come inside. It doesn’t help that we have a Rottweiler who loves and adores these boys so much that she is more than happy to help dig holes for them and track in her own amount of debris.

First world problems, I know. But the truth is, in their short little lives so far, these boys have killed three vacuum cleaners. Expensive ones. A Dyson, you know, the kind that promises to never lose suction, choked on their dirt. A Shark choked on their dirt. Lately, we opted for a less expensive model just in case it happened again. It did. The Eureka also burned out. We have a stick vacuum to help pick up the slack, but I feel a lot like that little robot in Wall-E that rolls around screaming “CONTAMINANT” as it follows Wall-E around the spaceship. Side note, that’s an underrated movie.

It seems however, I am not alone in my struggle. A friend of mine was commiserating with me because her kids have also cost her more than one vacuum cleaner along the way and shared this video she found for a good laugh. I’m not ashamed to say that I absolutely cackled. I don’t know who this woman is, but SHE GETS ME.

As you can see, vacuums have been on my mind lately. And because the internet can be a very useful thing, I did a little research to share 10 Things You Might Not Know About Vacuum Cleaners.

  1. The earliest incarnation of a cleaning device that would eventually lead toward the vacuum cleaner was, like many of its immediate successors, quite the behemoth. Invented in the 1860s in Iowa, it used bellows and blew instead of sucked. After typing that sentence the former teacher in me immediately braced for teenage giggles.
  2. Most early versions of the vacuum had to be carted around on horse drawn carriages and took at least two people to operate the mechanisms. Moreover, they were too big to enter the buildings they were meant to clean, so they had to be hooked to pipes and hoses through windows and doorways. The most famous was the “Puffing Billy” and was commissioned to clean Westminster Abbey before the coronation of King Edward VII. Lord Chamberlain was so impressed that he commissioned a Billy for Buckingham Palace and another for Windsor Castle.
  3. The quest for the perfect vacuum technology also spawned the hair dryer. The large blowing machines were hooked up to chairs with large hoods and used to blow air from furnaces to a person’s hair. Modern handheld hair dryers wouldn’t become widely commercially available until the 1950s.
  4. Anna and Melville Bissell ran a crockery shop until they managed to create a mechanized sweeper that used brushes. Their invention took off and the company they started has carried their name (and been run by their descendants) ever since. In fact, in 1889 when Melville Bissell passed away, Anna took over the company to steward it for her five children before they were of age and became the first female corporate CEO in America.
  5. In the early 1900s a department store janitor named James Murray Spangler used the Bissell Sweeper and added a few modifications of his own and created something that would make his job easier. He quickly realized the commercial viability of his invention and patented it. However, he didn’t have the means to manufacture and sell the machines himself, so he turned to family. His wife’s brother-in-law just happened to be William Henry Hoover. Hoover bought the rights, but also kept Spangler on in the business. However when Spangler died in 1915, he changed the name of the company from the Electric Suction Sweeper Company to The Hoover Company.
  6. The first iron lung was created by using an electric motor and two vacuum cleaners in 1927.
  7. A woman purchased an Electrolux vacuum in the 1930s (when they were the equivalent about $800 today) in Kent. She continued to use it without replacing it until it finally kicked the bucket in 2008 when it exploded in mid use. The Electrolux Company sent her a new one for free. Maybe I should look into getting an Electrolux if the whole Ridgid Shop Vac thing doesn’t work out for me.
  8. There are modern artists whose installations are primarily made from vacuum cleaners, and even one stage musician who is known for “playing” a vacuum cleaner.
  9. There is a vacuum cleaner museum in St. James, Missouri. And actually, my research calls it “the first vacuum cleaner museum” suggesting that there are more elsewhere.
  10. Before World War II, vacuum cleaners ranged in price from the modern day equivalent of $800-$1,300. After the war, manufacturing processes helped lower the price somewhat. However, it was the rapid growth of the middle class that is credited with the boom of consumer sales. Today 98% of American homes own a vacuum cleaner.

There you have it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean my floors. Again.

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