Most of us take for granted the minimal amount of effort it takes to clean our houses in this day and age. Vacuum cleaners are generally quiet, easily maneuvered and seem to be getting smaller by the day. But back when they were first engineered, vacuum cleaners were a little different than how we know them today.
There are several significant contributors to the evolution of the vacuum, originally called a carpet sweeper. Ives W. McGaffey debuted what he called the “Whirlwind” carpet sweeper in 1868, and although the invention was designed to lessen the task of cleaning, the “Whirlwind” needed to be hand-cranked as it was pushed.
The first successful carpet sweeper design was invented by Melville Reuben Bissell in 1876. Interestingly, Bissell’s inspiration for the sweeper came from his allergies to dust.
The process of dirt removal for these early versions involved blowing air into a receptacle instead of relying on suction. The “Puffing Billy” model, invented by Hubert Cecil Booth did just this, and was operated by an oil engine. It was so large that it needed to be carried from house to house by horse-drawn carriage! This model (understandably) received mixed reviews from the public.
Corrine Dufour received the first patent for a carpet sweeper that used an electric motor 1890.
Walter Griffiths from Birmingham, England, created a manual vacuum cleaner in 1905 that looked like vacuums we use today.
David T. Kenney established the Suction Cleaner Company and is also known for starting the American industry for vacuum cleaners.
William Henry Hoover is another early contributor, and is so entwined with the history of the vacuum that many people in Britain use the word “hoover” interchangeably with “vacuum.” But originally, vacuum cleaners were luxury items for only the wealthy until after WWII.
In the United States, the upright cyclone vacuum cleaner has become the norm. James Dyson is responsible for this surge in popularity. In 1985 he patented the cyclone vacuum cleaner and made it so that the force from the cyclone separates larger particles from smaller ones and will send them on to the appropriate filter for the most efficient dirt-removal process. Upright vacuums are better for wall-to-wall carpeting while canister vacuums can be more suited to non-carpeted flooring. In Europe, canister models are also called cylinder models.
In other Western countries across continental Europe, the canister vacuum takes precedence. Other parts of the world rarely need vacuums at all, as more popular tile or hardwood floors can be managed simply by sweeping or mopping.