Who Invented the Vacuum Cleaner? : The History of Vacuum Cleaner

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In a world of constant innovations every now and then there’s a few that stick with us for a very long time. These are usually inventions that do the little things for us and does it way better than any traditional methods.

The vacuum cleaner is one of these innovations that has made the sometimes overbearing task of cleaning and maintenance well a lot more bearable. Especially for commercial spaces and large areas these vacuum cleaners really come in handy for all of us.

In this article, we will discuss as to who invented the vacuum cleaner, a little bit of its history and more information about this useful piece of tool that makes our lives a lot easier and our tasks lighter.

Here we have prepared an Infographic, that will reveal a brief journey of discovering the vacuum cleaner.

Let’s look at the Infographic.

Who Invented The Vacuum Cleaner

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Whilst the visual is self-explained and it is furnished a lot of information. However, here we are going to breakdown the history of this useful tool.

Who Invented The Vacuum Cleaner?

Okay before we start let us establish first that it’s a fact that the vacuum cleaner is not a modern or a contemporary invention. It’s been around or rather the concept of it has been around since the 1800s.

So having said that, it would be really hard to pinpoint a person who invented the vacuum cleaner that we now know of. That’s just the nature of innovations.

If we’re going to attribute as to who started the concept for the modern day vacuum cleaner then the most prominent proponent perhaps is Daniel Hess.

This guy is often overlooked simply because he took a simple concept of the carpet sweeper which we are going to discuss later on this article and by that time already widely known but added a key component to it which is vital for jumpstarting the innovation of the modern day vacuum cleaner which is: AIR.

And also, it could be because he actually didn’t really perfect it. His machine still needed to be manually operated. That’s why historians don’t often attribute the invention of the machine to him. The machine Hess invented needed bellows to create enough suction and to draw dirt in, which was pretty limiting to what it can do.

About his innovation Daniel Hess said and we quote “The nature of my invention consists in drawing fine dust and dirt through the machine by means of a draft of air”.

Given the imperfections of Daniel Hess’s innovation, we move on to the second proponent that we are going to discuss in this section.

Enter Ives McGaffey, an inventor from Chicago who innovated upon the existing concepts and first came out with the “Whirlwind”. Everything started when McGaffey used a fan to move air and let his machine stand upright.

The device which we should mention was very bulky worked with a belt-driven fan and is cranked by hand. That process made it really hard and awkward to operate but McGaffey was the better salesman than compared to Hess.

The “Whirlwind” was marketed at a steep price ($450 today) but had some success although it almost bankrupts its manufacturing company (there were some other external reasons for this), and also most “Whirlwinds” were destroyed in two factory fires.

Nevertheless, because of these two gentlemen, the concept for what we will come to know of as the vacuum cleaner would be brought to life.

Another quote from Ives Mcgaffey’s patent for the purpose of his invention is “The accumulation of dust and dirt/in dwelling-houses is a source of great annoyance to all good housekeepers… to obviate these difficulties is the object of my invention”.

Truly enough this is definitely nowadays even if it’s already been almost a century and a half from that time.

History of the Vacuum Cleaner

We’ve discussed the major proponents and now we will go into more detail about the history of the invention of the vacuum cleaner.

Before we proceed any further though let’s define what a vacuum cleaner is: A vacuum cleaner is a device that is powered to cause suction in order to remove debris from floors, draperies, upholstery, and any other surfaces.

The collected debris is then gathered in a dust bag which would, later on, be disposed of. There have been so many variations and configurations up to date of the vacuum cleaners but so far this is its primary concept.

A vacuum cleaner can be a commercial or industrial grade or can be a residential build. Later on, we will discuss the modern configurations of a vacuum cleaner further.

The Carpet Sweeper (Post Hess and McGaffey)

We can’t discuss the history of the vacuum cleaner without talking about the carpet sweeper. Although not really an actual pre-requisite of the vacuum cleaner but rather a competitor. Think of the BetaMax and VHS.

A carpet sweeper is one of the first mechanical albeit manual operated devices that was used to clean floors, streets, and of course carpets. It’s practically a rolling broom and dustpan. After some time it was generally superseded by the vacuum cleaner.

The American patent for the design was submitted by Melville R. Bissell from Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1876. If the last name sounds familiar then it could be because the vacuum cleaner manufacturing company Bissell was named after him.

The carpet sweeper also became popular in the UK in 1889 with already various improvements done on certain models.

Powered Vacuum Cleaners

The dawn of the 1900s saw the introduction and rise of the powered vacuum cleaner. Blowing air instead of suction also was introduced for some types of variation for the device. John S. Thurman then submitted a patent for one “pneumatic carpet renovator” in 1898, which basically blows dust into a receptacle.

Thurman’s system though was powered by an internal combustion engine and was a door to door traveling cleaning business model. Another person who received patents for air blowing systems was Corrine Dufour.

Come 1901, Hubert Cecil Booth, a British inventor with American David T. Kenney introduced the powered vacuum cleaner which uses suction.  Booth also may have coined the term vacuum cleaner.

Booth’s vacuum cleaner was still horse-drawn and Kenney’s was a stationary 4000 pound steam engine with pipes and hoses reaching well into different parts of a building it was going to clean.

Domestic Vacuum Cleaners

Walter Griffiths was the first person to ever market a vacuum cleaning device that is portable, this was in 1905 in Birmingham, England. This version of the device already resembles what we now know as the vacuum cleaner.

It’s portable, easy to store, and can be operated by one person. Then James Kirby in 1906 developed the first of many of what was called the Domestic Cyclone. This time this version used water for dirt separation.

Then in a department store in Ohio, a janitor named James Murray Spangler developed the first portable electric vacuum cleaner. Which obtained a patent for the electric suction sweeper in 1908. This was also the first time a rotating brush was used to loosen any debris.

When Spangler sold his patent to a goods manufacturer named William Henry Hoover is was then redesigned with steel casings, casters, and some attachments. This version was sold for about $60.

Some other innovations on the device were the addition of the beater bar in 1919, disposal filter bags in the 1920s, and of course the upright vacuum cleaner we are so familiar with.

In Denmark, the first versions of a vacuum cleaner that can be operated by a single person were also invented at 39 pounds.

Post WW2 and Modern Era

What stands out in this era is that the vacuum cleaner already became a basic household item, especially among the middle classes and the western countries. Needless to say, the machine has gone through various innovations, redesigned, and augmentations.

Filterless cyclonic dirt separation was introduced together with central vacuum systems, and also rechargeable handheld models. The miniaturization of computers and the improved battery quality also allowed for more versions of the machine: Robot vacuums.

Electrolux Trilobite introduced the first cordless autonomous robotic vacuum. It was out in the consumer market by 2001.

More Recent Redesigns

As expected the vacuum cleaner has come a long way from a bulky, large and manually operated machine to what it is now today. In 2004 a British company innovated a hovering vacuum cleaner that floats using a cushion of air almost similar to a hovercraft.

Air Recycling Technology was also introduced which uses an air stream to collect dust from carpets. This design though is not yet made available to the public.

Types of Vacuum Cleaner Invented (Centuries 1800, 1900 & 2000)

1800s (Manual cleaners)

Carpet Sweeper by Hiram Herrick, Daniel Hess, and Ives McGaffey

Large, bulky, manually operated and cannot be handled by a single person. Air usage was introduced and the machine first stood upright.

Pneumatic Carpet Renovator by John S. Thurman

Gasoline-powered didn’t use suction but was an air blast. It still can’t be operated by a single person. Horse drawn from house to house for servicing.

1900s (Motorized Vacuum Cleaners)

Puffing Billy by Hubert Cecil Booth

Although inspired by Thurman’s air blast design this model utilized a suction with the air pumped through a cloth filter, still offered as a part of a cleaning service.

Kenney’s model by David T. Kenney

A 4000 pounds stationary machine that would have pipes and hoses attached to it. Long ones that could reach into parts of a building it’s about to clean.

Griffith’s Improved Vacuum Apparatus for Removing Dust from Carpets by Walter Griffiths

A first of its kind domestic vacuum cleaner. Portable easy to store and transport and resembles modern day vacuum cleaners.

Kirby Vacuum Cleaner by James B. Kirby

Known as the domestic cyclone.

Spangler’s Machine by James Murray Spangler

Employed a rotating brush to remove debris. First electric vacuum.

Model O by the Hoover Company owned by William Henry Hoover

Sold for $60 and was redesigned into a canister, steel casing, and attachments.

2000 (Recent Designs)

Roomba by Joe Jones

Joe Jones is a southwest Missouri native and invented the autonomous robot vacuum.

Vacuum Cleaner Types and Variations

Who Invented The Vacuum Cleaner


Perhaps the most well-known type of vacuum cleaner especially for domestic use. It could either be a direct air type or the clean air type of upright vacuum which the former is mostly found in commercial models and the latter for residential use.

The most common of these upright vacuums are driven by a belt powered by a suction motor rotating the brush roll.

Related Post: Best Vacuum For Shag Carpet


Canister models are popular in Europe. The motor and dust collector is in a separate unit mounted on wheels, it could either have a bag or be bagless and in turn, is connected to the vacuum head with a flexible hose.

Different heads for different tasks is its main advantage plus great maneuverability simply because the head can reach under the furniture and also makes it easier to vacuum stairs and vertical surfaces.


These are heavy duty industrial types. Similar to cylinder vacuum cleaners in design and components.

Wet or Dry

Hybrid cylinder/drum models that can be used for liquid spillage. Designed for both indoor and outdoor usage.


This type of vacuum cleaner is quite useful in industrial plants or manufacturing factories as it can handle both wet and dry debris. It uses a specialized form of wet or dry models that hooks up to compressed air.


Another simple yet great innovation of the design for vacuum cleaners. Suitable for cleaning large areas as you don’t have to unplug and plug every time. Some are cordless as well. You can carry it around at a certain period of time. Some have excellent battery power and are pretty lightweight at about 9 pounds.

Related Post: Best Back Pack Vacuum Cleaner

Some other forms of the modern-day vacuum cleaner are handheld, robotic, cyclonic, central, constellation, and vehicle types. There’s also a recent wet robot vacuum cleaner.

In Conclusion

We hope that you enjoyed our brief journey down the vacuum cleaner memory lane. It’s always fun to discover who discovered or invented which. By this time you should have a solid idea as to who invented the vacuum cleaner. A very important tool for our everyday busy lives. Truly the sky is the limit and we can only look forward to the next of innovations.

Source: Wikipedia

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