Life and history of vacuum cleaners

“France has a new device for cleaning furniture, carpets and fabrics. The main part of this device is a strong air pump … air is sucked in by a strong jet through the fabric; while the air carries with it all the dust. This is an excerpt from a note in a French newspaper, which talked about an outlandish device that removes dust. Now this device is known to us as a vacuum cleaner and in this article we will see how long this device has come.

Mechanics saves from debris
The official history of the vacuum cleaner begins in the 19th century. English inventors received several patents for a “device for sweeping the streets.” One of these mechanisms, invented by Joseph Whitworth, was a large wagon drawn by horses. Inside was a rotating drum, which swept the streets. On the other side of the ocean, too, did not sit idly by. In 1858, Hiram Herrick received the first patent for a mechanical carpet sweeper.

The essence of my invention is to draw dust and dirt through the machine by means of air draft and force them into water or its equivalent in order to destroy it …

Obviously, if this machine is set in motion in a dusty room, it will remove all the dust from the atmosphere that passes through it. Heavy dirt and debris are swept up on the ledges inside the dust box, as can be seen, and remain there until removed by the operator.

Hess’ “vacuum cleaner” used manual traction and instead of a dust collector had chambers with water, where the dust settled. However, the “Sweeper” never went on sale – Hess could not interest a potential manufacturer.

Starting from the middle of the 19th century, such inventions began to pour in from a cornucopia. Many inventors took the mechanisms already invented by someone as a basis, refined them, eliminated errors and tried to put them into production. For example, in 1868, Ives McGaffney invented the Whirlwind mechanism, which looks like a modern Handstick type vacuum cleaner.

He worked on a belt drive with a manual drive. The device cost $25 and brought not only usefulness, but also a lot of trouble, since you had to turn the handle and at the same time push it forward. In 1876, the owner of a china shop, Melville Bissell, in order to return losses from the financial crisis and help his wife with cleaning, patented his version of the “sweeper”. His device received various improvements, such as rubber wheels, and even interested buyers, but later Bissel died and his wife brought the plan to the end. Bissel still sells vacuum cleaners to this day.

We will not list all the inventions, we will only say that they cannot be called vacuum cleaners, since in fact they were kind of mechanical substitutes for brooms and brushes. All inventions had a serious drawback: there were no functions for air intake and accumulation of collected dust. In addition, their design did not allow access to dust in the depths of the carpet.

Far from all inventors went along the path of the Hess water dust collector, and most of the mechanisms were only suitable for sweeping debris and dirt. At best, the dust was simply blown off the surface, and any debris remained inside the mechanism.

The Baby Daisy device was developed in 1890 in France (produced in the UK). Dust was collected with bellows.

Despite the difficulties, many inventions found their customers, but their significance lies elsewhere. All of them became prototypes and gave a powerful impetus to the development of more advanced devices.

Motors save from dust
“We need to vacuum the room” – now, after this phrase, a compact device or a robot vacuum cleaner is launched in the apartment, which cleans the room in a matter of minutes. At the beginning of the 20th century, this phrase meant the appearance of a team of horses near the house with a huge wagon from which hoses were pulled.

The wagon has a well-aimed nickname

In 1901, the Englishman Hubert Cecil Booth managed to create a device that can rightfully be considered one of the first classic vacuum cleaners, because it not only sucked in dust, but also left it inside. Booth was helped by ingenuity – he noticed that dust should not be swept away by a stream of air, but drawn in and retained with the help of some kind of cloth or in a special tank. Throwing a handkerchief over the dirty upholstery of a chair, he dropped his mouth to it and began to suck in air. After that, he showed the public a handkerchief, on which all the dirt settled.


The inventor was also helped by the fruits of the industrial society, namely, the internal combustion engine, and the gasoline version was used in the first vacuum cleaner.

Three years earlier, American John Thurman had come up with a similar mechanism powered by a gasoline engine. To make money from this, he founded a cleaning company. However, Thurman’s clients complained about the terrible noise, smoke from the engine, and the high price of the service ($4). After several of these “vacuum cleaners” exploded right during work, Thurman quickly began to lose customers.

The engine worked, driving the pump pump and dust, under powerful pressure, was drawn into the device through the hoses. The whole system was so unwieldy that it could only fit in a horse-drawn wagon. Cecil showed his wit here too: the vans had a colorful appearance and beckoned anyone who wanted to try an outlandish novelty. There were many who wished, but the service was expensive and only the cream of society could afford it. Among Booth’s clients, there was even the entire royal court.

The foreign press described in detail the history of Booth’s invention

He later founded the British Vacuum Cleaner Company, which still exists today.

More ideas – more vacuum cleaners
At the beginning of the 20th century, new versions of the vacuum cleaner appeared literally every year, however, all these devices were bulky and inconvenient to use. For example, in 1905 Walter Griffiths introduced a relatively portable device with several interchangeable nozzles and a vacuum suction system. In 1906, Jim Kirby patented the “dust-collecting vacuum cleaner” which had cloth dust filtration. In the same year, Siemens released its own version of the dust exterminator – the Elmo vacuum cleaner weighing 150 kg.

Vacuum cleaner Elmo. The model is bulky and inconvenient to handle, although there is already a drive wheel in front of the device

In 1908, Ohio janitor James Spangler, realizing that his allergy was due to dust, decided to make it easy for himself. He took a mop, attached an electric motor from a ceiling fan and a large pillowcase to collect dust. Spangler and others liked the idea so much that he patented it and, having found like-minded people, tried to mass-produce vacuum cleaners, but went bankrupt, losing even the house that was in mortgage.

Spangler’s patent application. Inside the case there is an electric motor and an impeller from a ceiling fan

Spangler was saved from the disaster by relative William Hoover, who quickly assessed the possible benefits, bought the patent from the inventor and, after refinement, launched the production of vacuum cleaners. Later, the vacuum cleaner was equipped with a removable, cleanable bag. This is how Hoover (Hoover Suction Sweeper Company) was born. The company went for a publicity stunt: anyone could take the vacuum cleaner home for 10 days for testing.


From this moment, the real “vacuum cleaner fever” begins – everyone tried to create their own version that competed with rivals. In 1919, even the Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association was formed.

As a rule, the suction mechanism consisted of a vacuum pump and hoses, which most often had a fabric base and were short-lived. The problem was also the search for an engine, small in size, but capable of delivering the power needed for suction. Vacuum cleaner motors of the early 20th century consumed no more than 200 watts and could not develop high power, although at that time this was not a big drawback. Vacuum cleaners were expensive, and not everyone could buy them.

Model Lux from Electrolux

In 1912, the Scandinavians were noted in this area – a little-known Swedish company released a compact Lux 1 vacuum cleaner, where a fan was used instead of a vacuum pump. By the way, now this company is known as Electrolux. In 1921, they finalized their creation and became trendsetters in the constructive design of vacuum cleaners. The Model V vacuum cleaner had a streamlined body that looked like a rocket, acceptable power and a lot of other chips that brought it to the forefront.

“Model V” – attention is drawn to the pistol grip and sled instead of the usual wheels. The vacuum cleaner had a rich, for that time, complete set.


In addition to design and functionality, the Swedes have competently approached the promotion of the product. Cars made in the form of a vacuum cleaner drove around the country, and company representatives convinced people of the need for it. Other manufacturers did the same. In those days, popular magazines wrote that in addition to dust, a vacuum cleaner helps to get rid of all kinds of germs that cause illness.

Advertisement for Electrolux vacuum cleaners. Car in the form of a vacuum cleaner made on the basis of the Ford chassis


At the beginning of the 20th century, the first vacuum cleaners appeared in the Russian Empire, although there were no domestic developments that reached buyers at that time in the country. They sold foreign samples, for example, the Lux 1 already mentioned above or the French DESY, or they produced it on their own, but from parts imported into the country. Thus, the American businessman John Carl Lenke founded the Association of the Pneumatic Machines Plant in St. Petersburg, where the Blago vacuum cleaner was produced.

Advertising of vacuum cleaners and vacuum cleaner “Blago”


We destroy dust easily and comfortably
In 1914, Jim Kirby created the Ezee vacuum cleaner model, and a little later he found like-minded people and together they founded Scott Fetzer, which produced the lion’s share of Kirby vacuum cleaners. This company was one of the first to promote its products through home demonstrations.

The Ezee

In 1925, the “Vacuette Electric” appeared in stores with a detachable hose and several nozzles. In 1935, the Kirby Model C came out with an adjustable nozzle (adjusted by a foot pedal). This model was so successful that Jim Kirby included his name in the title for the first time. In the 1930s, the already famous William Hoover began making his Bakelite vacuum cleaners and added a bag full sensor to them. In 1927, the German company Miele & Cie introduced the world’s first plastic vacuum cleaner.


The second half of the 20th century was also rich in events from the world of vacuum cleaners. They were finalized, made better, more reliable, and most importantly, affordable. For example, in the 1950s the era of fabric hoses is gone – Hoover vacuum cleaners have acquired rubberized Veriflex hoses. Hoover was also noted in the 1960s, creating an unusual concept product Constellation.


It was a vacuum cleaner that, thanks to the air blown out of the case, hovered above the floor.

For the 1950s account for the flourishing of the production of vacuum cleaners in the USSR. We will not list them all, as there were many models. For example, the Rocket and Chaika devices can be considered the first successful models.

Back in the mid-1930s, the production of EPR began in the USSR – an electronic hand-held vacuum cleaner with a dust bag.



Advertising of Soviet vacuum cleaners. The second picture from the left shows some of the models that were popular at the time.

Gradually, all manufacturers increased the volume of dust collectors, and also made their devices multifunctional. They could be used at home, in a hotel, vacuumed the interior of a car, and even cleaned rooms with a high degree of pollution. Vacuum cleaners with dust bags built into the handles of the devices were popular in the US. In Europe, on the contrary, most often they bought vacuum cleaners with the usual layout – the bag was inside the case.