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A Brief History of the Evolution of the Vacuum Cleaner


The inception of vacuum cleaners was interestingly brought about by the Industrial Revolution. During the mid-1800’s, factories were producing manufactured items in the tens of thousands. As with any mass production, there was a ton of dirt and pollution that was generated everywhere. Around the same time, scientist Louis Pasteur made notable discoveries which led him to the conjecture that infectious diseases were caused by ‘germs’. The ‘germ theory’ (as it infamously became known) provoked a reaction towards industrial pollution and caused people for the first time to focus on cleanliness and hygiene.

The History of the Vacuum Cleaner

In 1869, Chicago inventor, Ives McGaffey patented a ‘sweeping machine’. McGaffey called his invention the ‘Whirlwind’, his machine simply created suction with a hand-pumping motion. It was the first patent for a device that cleaned rugs/carpets but was not considered a motorised vacuum cleaner. Despite its pioneering credentials, the ‘Whirlwind’ was considering bulky and expensive.

The next significant leap came when Hubert Cecil Booth of London. patented the first motorized powered vacuum cleaner in 1901. Booth’s vacuum ran on petrol and was towed around on a horse-drawn cart due its massive motor size. The machine provided cleaning services via long hoses, which extended and snaked into the windows of homes and/or commercial buildings. American inventors such as Corinne Dufour then went on to introduce variations of the same cleaning-by-suction principle that Booth had conceptualised. Dufour for instance, invented a device which sucked dust into a wet sponge. Despite these incremental developments, these versions of vacuum cleaners were still considered bulky, noisy and unpleasant in smell.

In 1926, William Hoover’s company produced the first commercial bag-on-stick upright vacuum cleaner. The vacuum’s design resembled a bagpipe attached to a show box. The design was considered very effective and the inclusion of metal beater bars greatly increased the efficiency of dirt removal. In the 1930’s, the first plastic vacuum cleaners hit the market. By 1952, Hoover launched the Constellation. The revolutionary Constellation, was a canister vacuum cleaner that resembled the motion of a small floating hovercraft. It was designed by Hoover to principally be placed in the centre of the room and then allow the user to work around it. The Constellation was small and versatile contrary to the traditional upright vacuum cleaning machines.


Come 1963, David Oreck designed a lightweight yet powerful upright vacuum cleaner for the hotel industry. A durable vacuum cleaner that housekeepers would ideally prefer over other heavy models available to them. His idea was so successful, that hotel personnel themselves asked to buy the machine for their own personal use. With the apparent demand, Oreck started to sell his products to the general public. His own company, Oreck Corporation, also took the initiative in working out a mutually beneficial deal with Whirlpool – which involved Oreck gaining the ability to gain free reign over the redesign of the backward Whirlpool upright machines.


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Between 1978 and 1993, the prolific James Dyson built 5,127 prototypes before perfecting the game-changing Dual Cyclone Machine. Dyson, unlike all the vacuum cleaning products which had preceded before it, was the first in the market to use bagless technology. This disruptive innovation by Dyson’s would propel it towards its dominance, by 2001 it astonishingly had 59% of the vacuum cleaner market by value.


Photo Credit: Difydave/iStock


The history and growth of vacuum cleaners over various years has truly been astounding. From its humble creation, it has now become an important household staple. Aiding millions and millions of households to greatly improve their sanitation and health. Its unparallel status as the eliminator of germs and reducer of pollutants is uncontested.

Feature image credit: Photo Credit: adventtr/iStock

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