The first vacuum-cleaning device to be portable and marketed at the domestic market was built in 1905 by Walter Griffiths, a manufacturer in Birmingham, England. His Griffith’s Improved Vacuum Apparatus for Removing Dust from Carpets resembled modern-day cleaners; – it was portable, easy to store, and powered by “any one person (such as the ordinary domestic servant)”, who would have the task of compressing a bellows-like contraption to suck up dust through a removable, flexible pipe, to which a variety of shaped nozzles could be attached.
In 1906 James B. Kirby developed his first of many vacuums called the “Domestic Cyclone” It used water for dirt separation. He held over 60 patents on everything from a wringer-less washing machine to ironing and dry cleaning equipment.
Early electric vacuum cleaner by Electric Suction Sweeper Company, circa 1908
In 1907, James Murray Spangler, a janitor from Canton, Ohio, invented the first motorized, portable vacuum cleaner. Crucially, in addition to suction that used an electric fan, a box, and one of his wife’s pillowcases, Spangler’s design incorporated a rotating brush to loosen debris. Unable to produce the design himself due to lack of funding, he sold the patent in 1908 to William Henry Hoover who had Spangler’s machine redesigned with a steel casing, casters, and attachments – their first vacuum was the 1908 Model O, which sold for $60. Subsequent innovations included the first disposal filter bags in the 1920s and the first upright vacuum cleaner in 1926.
In Continental Europe, the Fisker and Nielsen company in Denmark was the first to sell vacuum cleaners in 1910. The design weighed just 17.5 kg and could be operated by a single person.
The Swedish company Electrolux launched the innovative Model V in 1921 that was designed to lie on the floor on two thin metal runners. This innovation, conceived by Electrolux founder Axel Wenner-Gren, became a standard feature on generations of future vacuum cleaners. There is a recorded example of a 1930s Electrolux vacuum cleaner surviving in use for over 70 years, finally breaking in 2008