The History of Hoover Vacuum Cleaners

The Model 200 Duster and Model 575 upright. Creative Commons/INTV1980  

It might stand to reason that the Hoover vacuum cleaner was invented by someone named Hoover, but that’s surprisingly not the case. It was an inventor named James Spangler who invented the first portable electric vacuum cleaner in 1907.

The Janitor With a Better Idea 

Spangler was working as a janitor working at the Zollinger Department Store in Ohio when the idea of a portable electric vacuum cleaner first came to him.

The carpet sweeper he used on the job was making him cough a lot and this was dangerous because Spangler was an asthmatic. Unfortunately, he didn’t have many other options because standard “vacuum cleaners” at the time were large, unwieldy affairs pulled by horses and not exactly conducive to indoor cleaning.

Spangler decided to come up with his own version of a vacuum cleaner, one that wouldn't endanger his health. He wasn’t new to inventing as he’d already patented a grain harvester in 1897 and a form of hay rake in 1893. He began tinkering with an old fan motor, which he attached it to a soap box stapled to a broom handle. He then converted an old pillow case into a dust collector and attached that as well. Spangler's contraption eventually became the first vacuum cleaner to use both a cloth filter bag and cleaning attachments as he improved his basic model. He received a patent for it in 1908.

Spangler’s asthma was better, but his vacuum got off to a somewhat shaky start. He wanted to manufacture what he called his “suction sweeper” on his own and formed the Electric Suction Sweeper Company to make it happen. Unfortunately, investors were hard to come by and manufacturing was at a virtual standstill until he happened to demonstrate his new vacuum cleaner to his cousin.

William Hoover Takes Over

Spangler’s cousin Susan Hoover was married to businessman William Hoover, who was suffering some of his own financial frustrations at the time. Hoover made and sold saddles, harnesses and other leather products for horses, just as automobiles were steadfastly beginning to replace horses. Hoover was itching for a new business opportunity when his wife told him about Spangler’s vacuum cleaner and arranged for a demonstration.

Hoover was so impressed with the vacuum cleaner that he promptly bought Spangler's business and his patents. He became the president of the Electric Suction Sweeper Company and renamed it the Hoover Company. Production was initially limited to an average of six vacuums a day that no one particularly wanted to buy. Hoover wasn’t discouraged and began offering customers free trials and signed up a slew of door-to-door salesmen who could take the invention into homes and show the housewives at the time how well they worked. Sales began to boom. Eventually, there was a Hoover vacuum in nearly every American home.

Hoover made further improvements to Spangler's vacuum cleaner over the years as it's often said that Spangler's original model resembled a bagpipe attached to a cake box.

 Spangler stayed on with the Hoover Company as its superintendent, never officially retiring. His wife, son and daughter all worked for the company as well. Spangler died in January 1914, the night before he was scheduled to take his first vacation.

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Bellis, Mary. "The History of Hoover Vacuum Cleaners." ThoughtCo, Dec. 31, 2017, thoughtco.com/james-spangler-hoover-vacuum-cleaners-4072150. Bellis, Mary. (2017, December 31). The History of Hoover Vacuum Cleaners. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/james-spangler-hoover-vacuum-cleaners-4072150 Bellis, Mary. "The History of Hoover Vacuum Cleaners." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/james-spangler-hoover-vacuum-cleaners-4072150 (accessed January 23, 2018).