Booth Receives Patent for the Vacuum Cleaner Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

H. Cecil Booth’s invention of the vacuum cleaner reduced the hard labor of housecleaning and contributed to the improvement of health in homes and workplaces.

Summary of Event

During earlier centuries, carpets were hung on walls as decorations rather than used as floor coverings. Most floors were of uncovered wood, stone, or dirt, and the best way to clean them was to sweep them with brooms. During the nineteenth century, industrialization brought the invention of textile looms that were able to mass-produce heavy fabrics that could be used for carpeting materials. Soon, the cost of mass-produced carpets began to drop as availability increased, and the occasional rug was increasingly replaced by wide area rugs in every room of the house. Housewives and servants cleaned these early carpets using small, handheld whisk brooms; they also took the carpets outside periodically, placed them over clotheslines or something similar, and beat them with brooms, wooden paddles, or tools made especially for carpet beating that consisted of large loops of wood, cane, or wire attached to a handle. This technique was pure drudgery, and, over time, it damaged the carpet. Vacuum cleaners Inventions;vacuum cleaner Household appliances;vacuum cleaners [kw]Booth Receives Patent for the Vacuum Cleaner (Aug. 30, 1901) [kw]Patent for the Vacuum Cleaner, Booth Receives (Aug. 30, 1901) [kw]Vacuum Cleaner, Booth Receives Patent for the (Aug. 30, 1901) Vacuum cleaners Inventions;vacuum cleaner Household appliances;vacuum cleaners [g]England;Aug. 30, 1901: Booth Receives Patent for the Vacuum Cleaner[00190] [g]United States;Aug. 30, 1901: Booth Receives Patent for the Vacuum Cleaner[00190] [c]Science and technology;Aug. 30, 1901: Booth Receives Patent for the Vacuum Cleaner[00190] [c]Inventions;Aug. 30, 1901: Booth Receives Patent for the Vacuum Cleaner[00190] Booth, H. Cecil Spangler, James Murray Hoover, William Henry Herrick, Hiram H. Bissell, Melville R.

Efforts to find mechanical means of cleaning floors can be traced back to the early nineteenth century. In 1811, English inventor Jane Hume received a patent for a device that was designed to make sweeping hard floors easier. It was a box on wheels attached to a handle that contained a pulley for operating a brush in the box that was supposed to pick up dirt and sweep it into the box. Unfortunately, the device did not work as well as the broom it was designed to replace, and it was never marketed. The basic concept was revisited often, however, as carpets came off the walls and onto floors.

The first patent for a device actually called a mechanical carpet sweeper was issued to Hiram H. Herrick of Massachusetts in 1858. Eighteen years later, Melville B. Bissell of Grand Rapids, Michigan, came up with a design that worked on floors and had the added advantage of working equally well on carpets. The Bissell carpet sweeper became extremely popular, in part as the result of Bissell’s marketing acumen in addition to its excellent design. In 1896, four Bissell models were listed for sale in the Sears, Roebuck catalog. The Bissell carpet sweeper continued to enjoy a niche in the floor cleaner appliance marketplace long after the vacuum cleaner became ubiquitous in homes and is still available worldwide. The advantage of the Bissell carpet sweeper was its simplicity. It had few moving parts and anyone could use it. It emerged in an era when carpets were used as much for ornamentation as for practical purposes; therefore, the demand for greater efficiency—the mechanism’s ability to pick up more debris over wider areas more often—did not emerge until later.

By the end of the nineteenth century, electricity was becoming widely available in the United States and Europe, and with it came many new gadgets that utilized this clean and relatively inexpensive source of power to run motors, to create heat or cold, to provide light, and to perform many other tasks. Some were used in industry, others in the home. Among the many inventions that found application in both places was the vacuum cleaner.

The operation of the vacuum cleaner is based on a simple principle of physics. As air is forced from one place to another through the blades of a fan, a partial vacuum is created, and this causes more air to rush in to fill the void. As the fan blades push air out, more air is drawn in. The movement of air is continuous until the fan stops. Inside a vacuum cleaner, a fan forces air through an output valve at the same time it draws air through an input valve—the nozzle or business end of the machine. The suction thus created brings with it loose dust and other particles that are caught up in the rush of air through the system. Beater bars, brushes, and other devices loosen dirt from the surface being cleaned so that it can be drawn into the machine, where it is trapped in a disposable bag or other vessel as the air rushes through the output valve.

The first home vacuum cleaner appeared in London, England, in 1901. H. Cecil Booth received the British patent for the machine on August 30, 1901; Booth described it as a suction dust-removal machine. Booth’s vacuum cleaner bore more resemblance to a modern lawn mower than to the electric vacuum cleaner of the early twenty-first century. It was large, with a five-horsepower piston-driven motor mounted atop the front, and as it was extremely heavy, it was very awkward to use.

It should be noted that large, mobile industrial vacuum cleaners were in use as early as the 1890’s. These large suction cleaners were mounted on wagons pulled by horses and connected to the vacuum nozzle by long, flexible hoses that were strung through doorways and windows to reach the surfaces to be cleaned. These machines were used primarily to provide cleaning services for schools, hotels, theaters, and other buildings that were sites for activities that involved high levels of foot traffic. There were also smaller, nonelectric piston-driven consumer models available before 1900 that created more work than they saved for the homemaker. As a result, they were never accepted. Others were hand operated, with bellows for pumping air. There were vacuum-based air blowers and some cleaners that ran on compressed air.

Booth’s vacuum cleaner, although cumbersome and difficult to manage, provided the basis for advancements in suction technology that were to come. Ten years after the Booth patent was filed, lighter-weight and more powerful electric motors began to appear. This meant that vacuum cleaners could be powered by motors small enough to allow a greater degree of portability. In 1908, James Murray Spangler patented a much smaller and more popular version of the vacuum cleaner. He later formed a business partnership with a cousin, William H. Hoover, to market the machine; the new enterprise was called the Hoover Company. Hoover Company Almost a century later, the Hoover upright vacuum cleaner was still an industry leader and distributed worldwide.

In 1924, the first hand-luggable vacuum cleaner appeared, originating in Sweden. This early portable came with a flexible hose that could be attached for cleaning hard-to-reach places, furniture, draperies, and wall hangings. Other attachments came along over the years to suit the needs of the times, some using pulsating air to loosen dust and dirt and others employing special rake brushes to clean deep-pile shag rugs.

Unlike many home appliances that have come and gone or evolved into contraptions that scarcely resemble their earliest ancestors, today’s vacuum cleaners are very similar in design to the Booth vacuum of 1901. They operate on the same principle of suction and are used for the same purpose: to eliminate dust and small particles from living spaces. Over the years, vacuum cleaners have increased in popularity as wall-to-wall carpeting has become more common in homes as well as in many commercial and institutional settings.

As the technology employed to clean floors in the modern home and office continues to evolve, it is doubtful that Booth’s invention will be pushed aside by some newer, better way of extracting dust and dirt from carpeting. Indeed, the evolution of wall-mounted carpets of centuries past to area rugs, which were, in turn, superseded by wall-to-wall carpeting, has continued with the development of new flooring materials made for use outdoors, on patios, pool decks, walkways, and other areas subject to the merciless elements as well as foot traffic. These new exterior surfaces and the wall-to-wall carpeting found in millions of homes are here to stay. H. Cecil Booth will remain high on the list of pioneers who provided the inspiration for the development of the most useful modern-day home appliances.

Significance

As electricity reached more and more homes during the early twentieth century, the vacuum cleaner became the carpet sweeper of choice. Modern home construction often included built-in vacuum systems that allowed the operator to plug a hose into receptacles placed strategically throughout the house. Because the electric motor and fan design can be configured to operate at a wide range of suction levels, applications were found quickly for the vacuum cleaner in industry.

As with most home appliances, continuous evolution of the technology has brought new uses for the vacuum cleaner. Today, vacuum cleaners come in many sizes and configurations, including wall-mounted, rechargeable handheld appliances that are useful for cleaning small spaces such as kitchen cabinets and automobile interiors. Miniature vacuum cleaners are used in high-tech industrial applications for cleaning dust and particles from microcircuitry, and very large vacuum fans extract and collect particles from the air in and around industrial manufacturing areas to protect the health of workers. Booth’s vacuum cleaner was the forerunner of a long line of innovations that made homes and workplaces cleaner and safer. Vacuum cleaners Inventions;vacuum cleaner Household appliances;vacuum cleaners

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Galvin, Vanessa, et al., eds. How It Works: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. Vol. 19. London: New Caxton Library Service, 1977. Contains a good description, with illustrations, of the vacuum principle as applied in vacuum cleaner technology. Includes a series of early photographs showing horse-drawn vacuum machines and the first vacuum cleaner salesman.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grossinger, Tania. The Book of Gadgets. New York: David McKay, 1974. Interesting descriptions of a multitude of devices used in homes and offices. Includes a good discussion of the evolution of floor-cleaning technology. Includes index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lifshey, Earl. The Housewares Story: A History of the American Housewares Industry. Chicago: National Housewares Manufacturers Association, 1973. Provides a detailed look at the evolution of the vacuum cleaner, its history, and its applications. Includes photographs, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newhouse, Elizabeth L., ed. Inventors and Discoverers: Changing Our World. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2000. A heavily illustrated survey of the evolution of technology from the steam age in the early nineteenth century to the modern age.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Russell, Loris S. Handy Things to Have Around the House. Toronto: McGraw-Hill, 1979. An interesting survey of the history of a wide variety of household appliances, including vacuum cleaners. Includes numerous photographs and design specifications. Includes index and list of significant patents.

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