The Virtual House

Vacuum Cleaners


back to the hall
Pratts of Streatham advertisment 1950 showing a variety of household cleaning gadgets
Pratts of Streatham 1950 -
click to view full image

Long before the days of vacuum cleaners, people cleaned floors with mops, brushes, and brooms. Twig brooms were used as far back as 2300 B.C. by cave dwellers.

In 1858 carpet sweepers were invented. Cleaning was done entirely by rotating a brush which was activated by the wheels; there was no suction (from the word suck, in this case, to suck up the dirt and dust).

The first non-electric suction vacuum cleaner was a wooden machine known as a ‘Whirlwind’. It was manufactured and sold in 1869 by the American Carpet Cleaning Company. This machine had a suction fan driven by a hand lever on the handle, but it did not have a brush roll.

Early twentieth century vacuum cleaners were so big and clumsy it took two people to work them - one to pump the bellows and one to steer!

Photograph of vacuum demosntration at the 1967 Expo Show
Vacuum demonstration at Expo 1967 -
click to view full image

By the 1930s, with the building of power stations and networks of cables, most homes had electric power. Electric vacuum cleaners became possible, but without modern materials, such as plastics, they remained heavy, clumsy and expensive.

The first lighter, mass-produced vacuum cleaners were made by the Hoover company, founded by William Hoover in the USA. His company was so successful, vacuum cleaners were often called ‘Hoovers’.

Three modern vacuum cleaners (1995)
Vacuum cleaners (1995) -
click to view full image

Inside a vacuum cleaner there’s an electric motor which drives a fan round very fast. As the fan whirls round it sucks air in through a nozzle and hose attached to the cleaner. Bits of dust and dirt are sucked in with the air.

Modern materials have made it possible to adapt powerful industrial machinery for use in the home. The cyclone cleaner is part vacuum cleaner, part tornado. Like ‘Hoovers’, ‘Dysons’ have become associated with their maker; British inventor James Dyson.

Dirt is dislodged and sucked in by a powerful current of air. Instead of passing through a bag, the air is forced to spin at high speed, whirling the dust with it. In an inner chamber, the air is slowed down so that it drops the dust into a bin which, unlike a vacuum cleaner bag, cannot clog.


back to the hall