James Spangler - Hoover Vacuum Cleaners

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

James Spangler’s Brainstorm

Spangler was 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 -- this was dangerous because Spangler was an asthmatic, but 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. He’d already patented a grain harvester in 1897 and a form of hay rake in 1893.

Now he began tinkering with an old fan motor, ultimately attaching it to a soap box stapled to a broom handle, then he converted an old pillow case into a dust collector and attached that as well. The first indoor portable and electric vacuum cleaner was born. 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.

The Electric Suction Sweeper Company

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 he formed the Electric Suction Sweeper Company to do it.

Unfortunately, investors were hard to come by. Manufacturing was at a virtual standstill until he happened to demonstrate his new vacuum cleaner to his cousin.

Enter William Hoover

Spangler’s cousin was Susan Hoover, married to William Hoover, who was suffering some of his own financial frustrations at the time.

Hoover made saddles, harnesses and other leather products for horses, but automobiles were steadfastly beginning to replace horses at this point in history. 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 – an average of six vacuums a day that no one particularly wanted to buy. Hoover wasn’t discouraged. He 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 of the day how well they worked. Sales began to boom.

The Later Years 

William Hoover made further improvements to Spangler's vacuum cleaner over the years -- it's said that Spangler's original model resembled a bagpipe attached to a cake box. Eventually, there was a Hoover vacuum in nearly every American home. Spangler stayed on with the Hoover Company as its superintendent, never officially retiring. His wife, son and daughter all worked for the company.

Spengler died in January 1914, a night before he was scheduled to take his first vacation.