A History of Vacuum Cleaners Part One: When did Things Start Sucking? - Parker & Sons Skip to content

A History of Vacuum Cleaners Part One: When did Things Start Sucking?

Everyone hates chores. Or at least most people do. If you are lucky enough to live with someone who enjoys chores, hold on to them. Don’t let them move out. Ever. For the rest of us the site of a vacuum cleaner is about as exciting and ominous as a letter from the IRS.  So where did these harbingers of hard work come from? How long have they been around, and who cursed us by inventing them?

Preceding the vacuum cleaner was the carpet sweeper. Carpet sweepers were not powered, propelled, or energized in any way. They were simple boxes on wheels which contained rotating brushes. Aspiring housekeeper would push them along the floor trying to wheel up any dirt, debris, or crumbs that may have fallen.

Early vacuum cleaners were crude inventions indeed. The first manual vacuum cleaners used bellows for creating suction. Bellows are a human powered device compose of a flexible bag attached to a nozzle. The bag is inflated with air, then squeezed to propel that same air out the nozzle. Sounds like hard work!

One of the most dramatic improvements to vacuum cleaners came in 1898 when John S. Thurman of St. Luis, Missouri invented his “pneumatic carpet renovator.” This was the first powered vacuum cleaner. It ran on gasoline so likely didn’t help improve the smell of an already dirty home. Unlike modern vacuum cleaner which use suction to clean, Thurman’s invention expelled air, blowing dust into a waiting receptacle. Unfortunately use of Thurman’s “pneumatic carpet renovator” created nearly as much mess as it was responsible for cleaning up.

Thurman’s innovation was just the first of many which led to the modern vacuum cleaner.

Scroll To Top