It is difficult to think of a world before the vacuum cleaner, where dust, debris and particles were allowed to rest and potentially cause inhalation hazards.

At the conclusion of a construction project, a heavy-duty vacuum cleaner hire can be an essential part of the final cleaning up process before that project is completed or can enter the next phase of development.

The need for a vacuum cleaner became increasingly pronounced as the nature of carpets and flooring changed. Instead of having smaller rugs that could be cleaned, moved and washed easily, the rise of entire floor coverings made traditional sweeping far more difficult.

An alternative was required, particularly for people suffering from allergies or asthma, and its invention predated the widespread use of electricity.

The Carpet Sweeper

Unlike many industrial tools, the vacuum cleaner does have a lineage that is relatively easy to document, and it starts with a man based in West Union, Iowa. Daniel Hess manufactured what he called a “carpet sweeper” and received a patent for his invention in 1860.

Whilst limited by the lack of electrical power, the core principles of his carpet sweeper were similar to what many vacuum cleaners use today. It featured a rotating brush that would gather dust, with a foot-activated bellows to generate suction to attract the dust towards the device.

There were a few competing carpet sweeper models around this time, including one known as the “Whirlwind” in 1869, which used a somewhat awkward to use hand crank to generate suction, although it did manage to generate some sales.

More successfully, Melville R. Bissell of the Bissell Corporation created a similar model, although they would soon switch to vacuum cleaners instead.

Other designs required the use of two people, with one being used to work the bellows akin to an early diving suit. Others required one person to rock from side to side on a see-saw platform, others still were friction-powered and worked in a similar way to hand lawnmowers or toy cars.

Whilst these more heavy-duty versions would barely last into the 20th century, more lightweight and ergonomic versions of the initial carpet sweeper principle are still seen to this day, as they are used in locations where electricity may not be guaranteed or in situations where a cleaner does not want to disturb anyone.

The Dawn Of Powered Vacuum Cleaning

Early powered vacuum cleaners did not always use vacuum suction, with early examples such as John Thurman’s pneumatic carpet-renovator from 1898.

Instead of creating a suction effect to attract dust, Mr Thurman’s cleaner instead used a powerful fan to blow dust up from the carpet itself into a large dust bag (initially a pillowcase on his prototype).

His system was also part of an advanced door-to-door cleaning service, where he would travel to different homes on a horse-drawn wagon with the system and its internal combustion engine fitted and provide professional cleaning.

A similar blown air system was patented the next year by Corrine Dufour which is the earliest known electric vacuum cleaner, although it again used blown air rather than suction.

The first suction systems were created in parallel by two engineers: Hubert Cecil Booth of Great Britain and David T Kenney of the United States. The former, believed to be the first use of the term ‘vacuum cleaner’ evolved on Mr Thurman’s design, replacing the blown air with a suction.

Mr Kenney, on the other hand, used a huge steam engine to create a multi-purpose system that reached throughout a house and could provide effective cleaning.

However, these systems were gigantic and cumbersome, making them only justifiable as part of a professional deep clean.

From Rarity To Everyday Essential

The big transformative change came when a man based in Canton, Ohio developed what we recognise as the first modern vacuum cleaner. James Murray Spangler’s device used a rotating brush to loosen debris before an electric fan provided the suction to launch the dirt into a pillowcase.

For Mr Spangler, a lifelong asthmatic, the device was a game-changer. However, whilst he had enough money to patent his new innovative device, he did not have the money to actually create it, so he built the machines slowly whilst showing them to people he know.

One of them was his cousin, Susan Hoover, who was married to William Henry Hoover, at the time best known for selling leather goods. Quickly realising the potential of the system, he bought it from Mr Spangler for $36,000 (around $1m adjusted for inflation) and set about mass production.

The partnership was so successful it would lead to “hoover” becoming the genericised name for any vacuum cleaner, and whilst there have been innovations since, even the most modern vacuum cleaner can be traced back to Mr Spangler’s innovations.