This was a messy, somewhat ineffective process and proved pretty hard on the rugs as well. Fortunately, it was not long after the industrial revolution started that people began to look at ways to automate this process and get better results.
Fast-forward to today when we have sweepers like Roombas that are able to run completely on their own, and it is amazing how far we have come since the very early days.
In this post, we will look at the history of vacuums and see how it developed from its earliest, bellow-operated versions, to today’s high-tech ones.
Who Invented the Vacuum Cleaner?
If we look back at the patent records for 1858 in the United States, we see the first version of the vacuum cleaner. The patent holder was Hiram Herrick. Unfortunately for Hiram, this version was not particularly successful as it was hard to use and didn’t work well.
There were a few more versions invented by others in the 1800’s, but by and large, they were also not very successful. Interestingly enough, one of the earlier models did include a water filtration system, but this model was never mass-produced.
It was only forty-one years after the initial patent was registered that we saw the beginnings of the first motorized version.
What Year was the first vacuum cleaner invented?
That depends on what kind of sweeper we are talking about. The general consensus, though, is that title belongs to Hiram H. Herrick’s version way back in 1858.
But do we count from there, or do we count from 1899 when John Thurman invented the first motorized version? We’ll leave you to decide that.
Types of Vacuums in Centuries
The 1800’s were a century of great innovation in this field. We have five basic models that became available during this time.
Herrick started the ball rolling with his invention in 1858 but did not achieve much in the way of success because it was easier just to sweep than to use his version.
Two years later, Daniel Hess came up with a more workable model that worked using a water filtration system. This one was simpler to operate but was also not mass-produced.
In 1869, Ives W. McGaffey patented his sweeping machine but again, this was not much of a success because it was crank operated.
Melvin Bissell developed the first sweeper powered solely by pushing it. This was a pretty successful design and something that you might remember using as a child if you are old enough.
None of these were motorized as yet, and this did limit the usefulness of them.
Just before the close of the century, John Thurman patented what he called a pneumatic carpet renovator. It ran on gas and is widely considered the front-runner to our modern options. Unlike our modern versions, it worked on a system using compressed air and not suction.
It was relatively successful and worked well enough to be considered the first ever motorized vacuum cleaner, but it was still a long way from being as convenient as the models that we use today because it needed to be hauled around by a horse-drawn carriage.
It is somewhat laughable to think about it now, but being gas-powered was the best way to go at the time.
The 1900s saw the development of a lot of new ideas in this field. The most notable inventor during this era could be considered Hubert Cecil Booth. He invented the first model to run on electricity in 1901 and is said by some to have come up with the phrase, “vacuum cleaner.”
His model was the first to make use of a tube to clean up the dirt, and it was lauded as one of the greatest inventions in Britain.
Booth was not the undisputed inventor of what we consider the modern sweeper. David T. Kenny had filed a patent for a similar invention in 1901, but his application was originally declined. He appealed the decision and got the patent, but only five years later.
In the interim, he built a steam-operated system in Pittsburgh’s Frick Building. This somewhat elaborate machine had hoses and pipes that were able to extend its reach into every single room in the building.
Of course, the models up to this time were all very good and well, but none were really practical for a home user. Walter Griffiths set out to change that and managed to create our first truly portable option in 1905.
It was not ideal because it operated on a manual system that employed bellows but it was an improvement on previous models. It was also the first model to make use of flexible pipes and a range of different nozzles. This was the nearest thing to a modern sweeper at the time.
Chapman and Skinner also came up with a portable model at the same time, but it didn’t work out because it weighed something like 92 pounds.
First Electric Vacuum Cleaner
Which side of the debate you fall on when it comes to who invented the first electric model would probably depend on which side of the pond you are on. The Brits were quick to proclaim Booth’s model as a British invention and also one of the 50 best inventions from Britain.
Those from the United States tended to have a different view on the matter, siding instead with David T. Kenny.
Either way, you look at it, the earliest electric model was available in the early part of the 1900s. Neither model was completely ideal yet, and there was still a lot of work to do, but at least got the ball rolling.
One of the most famous brands to survive to the present day, Hoover, started out with an invention by James Murray Spangler in 1908. Spangler had worked on a very simple system using a few supplies around his home to create the foundation of one of our best models yet.
So, why wasn’t it a Spangler? Simple – he didn’t have the money to get it mass produces and so sold it to William Hoover, the husband of his cousin.
He did become a partner in the business and helped to develop Hoover’s Model O. And, from that point on, the rest is history.
Today, one of their most popular vacuums is the Hoover Linx.
It was the Eureka Vacuum Company that was started by Fred Wardell that came up with the first upright model for use in homes in 1909. Wardell’s invention made it much easier for housewives to also get to use the machines quickly and easily.
These upright vacuums made it easy to clean up without needing to stoop. This proved to be a highly popular option because it allowed people to remain at least partially comfortable while vacuuming.
These electric versions looked a lot like the upright models that you would come across in a store these days – proof that while the machinery might have changed, design elements have not.
Vacuums For Hotels
Oddly enough, it wasn’t until about 1963 that manufacturers started looking into industrial (commercial) style vacuums for hotels. The pioneer here was David Oreck and his Oreck Corp. He started out by blending power and durability and made quite a name for himself and his company.
His machines were built to be not only powerful but also simple to use and have made the job of a lot of housekeeping teams simpler.
He built on this success, and so Oreck is still to this day associated with the high-quality industrial machine. The brand is still used in thousands of hotels globally and is still the preferred provider.
The first robotic vacuum option came out towards the end of the 1990’s. Electrolux unveiled their cleaner in 1997 at BBC’s Tomorrows World. The Tribolite was not available commercially for another four years and used sensors to check for obstacles and maneuver around them.
This model did have the function to return to its home base when it needed to be recharged. It was a precursor to the modern Roomba, but not quite as smart or powerful.
However, it was definitely the first step into a whole new world where you could just set the cleaner to run on its predetermined program and forget about it.
Whereas the focus in the 1900s was more on portability and offering electrically-powered models, the focus in this century so far has been more on automation and protection for allergy-sufferers.
This has seen the incorporation of ever more powerful technology, the development of better and more effective filters and leaps and bounds when it comes to software developments for the Roombas and similar models.
It has even seen the development of new and possibly zany products like the world’s first cardboard model.
It will be interesting to see what other models might be developed. The idea of models that can function autonomously is certainly an intriguing idea, but there might be a lot more work to be done in this area.
And, with current models boasting that they can pick up as much as 99.7% of dust particles, it looks like effectiveness is currently high. Perhaps we will see more compact models and an improvement in the battery power in general.
The developer of the Roomba was asked quite often is she could make a robot that would clean people’s houses and so that is exactly what she set out to do. The Roomba was first made available in 2002 and shot to fame quite quickly.
It even made on Oprah’s list of favorite things, which, at the time, was high praise indeed. Since then the standard Roomba has been getting better and better. For example, it can clean various rooms with it’s updated technology.
Cardboard Vacuum Cleaner
The trend towards producing options that are more sustainably sourced and recyclable has also seen the development of the world’s first sweeper made from cardboard. How well this will be received is not known at this point, but Vax has put out a limited edition to gauge interest.
Still, no matter how eco-friendly this option might be, it might not really catch on – you have to wonder exactly how sturdy it would be and how it would stand up to normal cleaning operations in general. We are not sure consumers would be very interested.
The price would probably end up being the deciding factor.
And that, in a nutshell, is how the development of the vacuum cleaners unfolded. Of course, the models that we have today are a lot more convenient than those of many years ago. Imagine having to ring up to book the vacuum cleaner for the day?
And then having to ensure that there was somewhere for it to be parked off outside. Or imagine a model that weighed 92 pounds. That gives a new definition to the term “backbreaking housework” doesn’t it?
Will our children and grandchildren be as amused at the models that we use today? Considering the way that the industry has developed so far, and the advancements that have been made, it will be interesting to see what form these cleaners take going forward.
Who knows, maybe we will be able to vaporize the dust with tiny little laser beams or beam it to somewhere else at the push of a button!
Sources and Resources
- Get Sucked In With These 11 Facts About the History of the Vacuum Cleaner – mentalfloss.com
- Vacuum Cleaner – encyclopedia.com