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Evolution of the Vacuum Cleaner

April 20, 2015

There’s a keystone in every great invention.

It’s always a great feeling when the spring season finally arrives. The long, cold winter—which seemed endless at times—is now a distant memory. The skies are slowly but surely clearing up, indicating that beautiful weather is just on the horizon. Glimmers of sunshine and cool, gentle breezes have already encouraged people to pack their heavy clothing away.

Of course, with so many coats, snow boots, and scarves, it’s easy for your home to become quickly cluttered. Spring has long been considered a season of renewal, and for many, this renewal takes the form of spring cleaning.

Spring cleaning involves decluttering the home, but moreover, it helps rid homes of dust, dirt, and other contaminants that have accumulated during the winter months. Removing contaminants greatly improves the health of everyone in a household; when it’s time for spring cleaning, there’s no better appliance to use than the vacuum cleaner.

Carpet Sweepers, the Early Design

The origin of vacuum cleaners dates back to late 19th century. In 1876, Melville Bissell—along with his wife, Anna—owned a crockery shop in Michigan, which was consistently overrun with dust. Bissell’s business, and his health, was negativity affected as a result, leading him to invent the carpet sweeper.

Bissell’s carpet sweeper was fitted with tiny, rotating bristles that helped scoop up dirt and dust into a compartment inside the device. The carpet sweeper was powered by its movement across the surface being cleaned. Despite its name, the carpet sweeper could be used on multiple surfaces, including bare floors.

This product garnered international acclaim, but carpet sweeper sales steadily declined with the advent of the electric vacuum cleaner.

Electric Vacuum Cleaners, the Next Innovation

25 years after Bissell’s device hit the market, a mechanical engineer from London created a similar, yet innovative product. In 1901, Hubert Cecil Booth watched as a railway carriage was cleaned using compressed air hoses. As he noticed debris being blown in different directions, he thought there must be a more efficient cleaning method to utilize. 

Later on, inspiration came to Booth as he dined with friends. He covered his mouth with a moist handkerchief, placed it on a cloth chair, and inhaled; this experiment caused dust to become trapped against the handkerchief’s lining. Booth realized that with reverse pressure and a filter, a device could capture and store dust, instead of merely blowing it all over an area.

Booth attached a vacuum pump to a six-horsepower piston engine, which was driven by an electric motor. With a few minor tweaks, the world’s first electric vacuum was ready for use in both homes and businesses. 

Cyclone Vacuums, a New Spin on an Old Favorite

Booth’s invention revolutionized how people clean, but 77 years later, this invention—much like the carpet sweeper—would also be surpassed. 

In 1978, designer James Dyson made an interesting discovery; while doing some cleaning, he noticed that his vacuum cleaner suction became weaker as the dust bag filled. Realizing the vacuum retained dust because of its filter, Dyson re-envisioned the system to utilize a bin instead. This small change had huge implications, as a bin would help the vacuum maintain suction power over its service life.

After creating 5,127 prototypes, Dyson eventually perfected his product and called it the cyclone vacuum cleaner. Dyson’s vacuum relies on cyclonic separation, which drew dust particles into the vacuum, increased particle mass using centrifugal forces, and collected particles into a bin. This creative process eliminated the need for vacuum dust bags.

Nearly four decades later, the vacuum cleaner remains a staple in any home or business, and many Keystone products are found in these appliances—products such as fuse clips & fuse holdersquick-fit terminalsspacers & standoffs, screws & panel hardware and various hardware & accessories.