vacuum cleaner
(Image: Unsplash/The Creative Exchange)

OFFICIAL DEFINITION

The domestic vacuum cleaner is designed to suck dust and other unwanted materials from a range of household surfaces. Demand for this device is high in the Global North and Asia-Pacific region.

RAZER DEFINITION

It was the Electrolux man who first upgraded Mum from a mechanical carpet sweeper and into the era of centrifugal fans. Dad and I warned against the razzle-dazzle of the sales pitch, but Mum, who continues to be upsold, just said we were lazy people with no interest in cleanliness. This is only half true. We were lazy and remain so. However, I have long suspected vacuum cleaners claim to be far more hard-working than they really should.

hoover vacuum cleaner
Lies! And in ad copy no less. (Image: Wikipedia)

WHY IT MATTERS

Vacuum sales are made with the ongoing promise of ruthless cleanliness, and Mum buys vow this every other year. This is notwithstanding advice by Tom Gasko. This historian and curator of the world’s first Vacuum Cleaner Museum, has said: “A vacuum cleaner from 1910 would clean the rug just as well as a modern vacuum cleaner from today.”

Look. We’d all like to believe in an anti-allergenic miracle instrument like the HEPA filter. But unless all of the air drawn into the vacuum device is expelled through its “sealed” or “true”  HEPA”, the thing might be doing more harm than good for our allergies or asthma.

We’d all like to believe in an artificially intelligent hausfrau, too. But if the marvellously sober Choice fails to recommend the purchase of a robot, we must not fail to engage our brain the next time some bloke with a bowling ball tells tales of fast-paced evolution.

WHO CARES?

We all care for a nice, clean floor. Even me and Dad. So did Levi Dickenson, a man known for perfecting then manufacturing the broom — although I do suspect his wife had something to do with the Dickensons’ sweeping 18th-century fortune.

And a bloke named Spangler cared, too. He invented the portable vacuum cleaner after bolting a fan onto one of those useless Bissell things in 1907.

No human can care so deeply as the mechanism of profit. This consumer market is currently valued at US$11 billion annually and projected to rise as Chinese families are subjected to the spectacle of bowling balls and theatrically soiled carpet samples.

Poor old Spangler was not so shit-hot as a capitalist. He eventually sold his truly innovative patents to the Hoover family — kind of a big deal in leather at the time — and died 24 hours before he was due to take his first ever holiday, as though he were some terrible Alanis Morissette lyric.

RELEVANT FACTS

  • In 1978, still flush with public money and some nifty new battery tech from the Moon Drill that NASA had them build, Black & Decker introduced the world to a much louder and less effective alternative to the dustpan and brush.
  • 4% of people globally wear underwear only when vacuuming and 2% claim they vacuum naked. Naked vacuuming appears to be chiefly a Nordic pastime. (No. I’m not making this up.)
  • The Roomba made its debut in 2002. It would take Dyson to truly innovate.
  • The same door-to-door sales model that first built Hoover’s fortune is today used by the Kirby Company, not a firm I will soon invite into my home.
  • Henry the Hoover’s legal name is actually Henry the Numatic.

THE LAST WORD

The Razers have always been a frugal family and were the last on street to suffer the seduction of the microwave, the powered garage door and the VCR. My mother resisted relationships with many 1980s commodities and my sister is today famously mean about light bulbs. Still. When those Dyson suckers truly arrived, looking like a cross between an iMac and a pump for erectile dysfunction, the pair of them were sold.

James Dyson is celebrated for revolutionising the vacuum cleaner. He is lauded all over the shop for the agility of his mind and his brand, one that has convinced us of our urgent need for cordless cleaning by refinements to the “stick” market leader of the present.

James Dyson should be celebrated for revolutionising the vacuum cleaner in 1983 by figuring out how to make it cost £2000.

In fine, should you see one of those 1910 models on Gumtree, buy it and use it on your rug. Mrs Dickenson’s broom should do your hard floors.

FURTHER READING

Gantz, C (2012). The Vacuum Cleaner: A History. North Carolina: McFarland & Company.

Blitz, M (2016). This Sucks: The Messy History of the Vacuum Cleaner. Popular Mechanics, 23 May.

Eschner, K (2017). The Vacuum Cleaner Was Harder to Invent Than You Might Think. Smithsonian.com, 30 August.

Gantz, C & Umbach, SR (2009). The Dustbuster Story: How Black & Decker Moved from the Basement into the Kitchen and Cleaned Up in the Market Place (PDF). Catalyst. Industrial Designers Society of America.

Peter Fray

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