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When Was the First Vacuum Cleaner Invented? (And By Who?)

Written by James Hall |

when was the vacuum invented

Have you ever wondered when the first vacuum cleaner was invented and what it looked like? Here’s our guide to the history of the vacuum!

Vacuum cleaners have become such an integral part of our lives that it’s easy to take them for granted. They are a relatively new invention though, with people relying on sweepers and brooms for the vast majority of human history.

So, when was the first vacuum invented? Who invented it? And was it anything like modern vacuums from brands such as Shark, Dyson, and Miele? Let’s find out.

When Was the First Vacuum Cleaner Invented?

The first vacuum cleaner was invented in 1901 in the UK by a man called Hubert Cecil Booth – although you would have a hard time recognising it as a vacuum!

Booth was an engineer who is probably best known for designing the Riesenrad Ferris wheel in Vienna. He had seen a machine that attempted to clean by blowing air to stir up dust into a bag, which he realised was the wrong way to approach the problem.

At the time, the idea of sucking air through a filter to pick up dirt was considered to be impossible. But Booth soon succeeded in making the machine – even though it had little resemblance to the lightweight machines we know today.

Manual Vacuums Came First

Before electric vacuum cleaners, manual vacuums (or carpet sweepers) were available. These were first invented in 1860 in America, and relied on a brush and fan to stir up and collect dust. Carpet sweepers are still around today, and are a cheaper alternative to vacuum cleaners.

What Did the First Vacuum Cleaner Look Like?

The first vacuum cleaner was a huge device. In fact, it was the size of a small cart and needed to be pulled by horses to its destination!

Despite its size, the underlying technology was similar to the vacuums we use today. The main differences are in size, noise, and efficiency.

When Booth’s vacuum arrived at a building to be cleaned, the operators used long hoses to suck up dust. The air was passed through a filter, allowing dirt to be collected in the main body of the vacuum.

Cleverly, Booth had included a small window into the chamber, so people passing by could see how much dirt was being collected. This, combined with the large machine, meant that the vacuum generated free marketing wherever it went.

While there was some controversy about the machine – including the noise when in operation – Booth’s vacuum became known as the only vacuum cleaner that really worked. It was even used to clean Buckingham Palace!

Moving Towards Portable Vacuum Cleaners

The first vacuum was big, required a team to run, and couldn’t even get inside the average home. In other words, it was expensive to hire and not very practical!

Vacuums quickly became smaller and more portable, however, with both Electrolux and Hoover developing their first models around this time. Their initial vacuums were released around 1915, although it would take a few more decades before Hoover built their first large production facility in the UK.

This is also why the brand name “Hoover” is often used instead of “vacuum” in the UK. Hoover were an American company, but they quickly dominated the UK market for portable vacuum cleaners. Even today, most people talk about “Hoovering” rather than “vacuuming.”

Reaching the Mass Market

From 1930 until the end of the Second World War, vacuums were being manufactured in greater quantities but still hadn’t reached mass adoption. In fact, the majority of people in the 1950s still cleaned using manual tools, especially as vacuum cleaners were still expensive.

It was over the next few decades that the vacuum cleaner started to become a vital part of everyday life, rather than just a luxury. The machines started to become smaller, cheaper, and more effective, which led to them becoming more appealing to the mass market.

Cyclonic Vacuums Were an Important Innovation

Until the 1980s, most vacuum cleaners were bagged models. These vacuums often generated strong suction, but had issues with losing suction power as the bag filled up.

Realising this was an issue, James Dyson decided to develop a bagless cyclonic system. Instead of passing through a bag, air is spun at high velocities to force dust and dirt to the edge of the canister. It’s then filtered or collected without the need for a bag.

Bagless cyclonic vacuum cleaners don’t lose suction as they fill up, which is an advantage over bagged vacuums. However, they have smaller capacities and are messy to empty, which is why there’s a place for both bagged and bagless vacuums today.

Note: It’s important to point out that James Dyson wasn’t the first to come up with the idea of a bagless vacuum or a cyclonic vacuum. His company was the one to popularise this design though.

Modern Vacuum Cleaners

Today, there are hundreds of home vacuum cleaners on the market from a variety of brands. These vary in both design and features, including:

  • Bagged and bagless vacuums
  • Cordless or corded vacuums
  • Standard or robotic vacuums
  • Handheld or full-size vacuums

There are also many advanced features found on modern vacuums. LED headlights, adaptive suction, LCD screens, and floorheads with multiple brush bars have become common over the last few years.

Summary

Vacuum cleaners might not appear to be the most exciting home technology, but they play a crucial role in modern home cleaning. They also make having thick and lush carpets more practical, as without a vacuum we’d need to clean these with a manual sweeper or broom.

The vacuum has come a long way since the first horse-drawn models. Today, we have powerful cordless vacuums that weigh less than 3kg, automated robotic vacuums, and digital LCD screens that can detect the amount of dirt being sucked up.

We’re excited to see what the next innovation in the vacuum marketplace will be!

Do you have any questions about who invented the vacuum cleaner? Please let us know in the comments section below. You might also be interested in how vacuum cleaners work.

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