Vacuuming: A Lost Art That Should Stay That Way
by Marjorie Dorfman
Page 2
Several electric-powered vacuum cleaners reared their dusty heads about the turn of the twentieth century. Many of these early machines were simply hand-pumped machines to which electric motors were affixed to operate a leather bellows inside. Most of the major manufacturers of today, such as Electrolux, Royal, Kirby, Hoover and Eureka can be traced back to these early years. Chapman and Skinner in San Francisco invented the first portable electric vacuum in 1905. It weighed ninety-two pounds and used a fan 18 inches in diameter to produce the suction. A woman needed her man to move the heavy vacuum around, giving new meaning to the term domstic togetherness. Because of its size and cumbersome nature, it did not sell well.

vacuum cleanerIn 1907 a janitor in a Canton, Ohio department store, James Murray Spangler, deduced that the carpet sweeper he was using was the source of his incessant sneezing. He tinkered with an old fan motor, which he attached to a soapbox and stapled to a broom handle. A pillowcase served as a dust collector. In 1908 he improved this basic model, received a patent and formed the Electric Suction Sweeper Company. One of the first buyers was a cousin, whose husband, William Hoover, later became the president (of the Hoover Company, not the United States). Subsequent improvements made the machine resemble a bagpipe attached to a cake box, but they worked. Sluggish sales were given a kick by Hoover’s ten day free home trial, and eventually there was a Hoover vacuum cleaner in nearly every home (not to be confused with a chicken in every pot and whoever said that).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch in Melville and Anna Bissell’s crockery shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan the dust was so thick that it threatened their health and inspired the creation of a new and different carpet sweeper. Neighbors working out of their homes put together the inner workings and cases of the sweeper, securing tufts of hog bristles, inserting them into rollers and trimming them with scissors. Mr. Bissell himself then assembled all the parts in a strange little room above the store. The Bissell Carpet sweeper remains unchanged today (except that the room used for assembly is a little bit bigger).

The vacuum cleaner is one of the greatest household aids ever invented. It’s right up there with sliced bread and the flushable toilet. Its speed and efficiency allows more time for leisure and less for cleaning, which is an option I will always pick when forced to chose between the two. I no longer have to shake my scatter rugs out the window or beat my carpets and rugs in the backyard every spring (not that I ever did, you understand). Now I can lay back and look at my vacuum and decide when I want it to work for me. I don’t know when the next time will be. I have to go for a root canal. I feel that’s more fun than vacuuming. Would you say that I have a problem?

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