2nd June 1908 The Portable Vacuum Cleaner is Patented

James Spangler did not enjoy his work. He was working as a janitor and cleaner in a department store in Ohio, USA. This was a far cry from his dream of being a successful inventor. He had three patents to his name, but none of them had made him his fortune. So, in his late fifties, he was reduced to taking menial work to pay the bills. To make things worse, the dust in the air caused by him sweeping the floors aggravated the asthma he had suffered from for many years. Something had to be done.

Spangler decided to use his creative mind to try and solve the dust problem. He combined an electric motor, a fan, a brush, a broom handle, a pillowcase and old soap box to come up with a device he called the “suction sweeper”. The electric motor made both the brush and the fan rotate. The brush loosened the dust in the carpets and this was then sucked into the pillow case by the fan. The portable vacuum cleaner had been born. Other vacuum cleaners existed, but Spangler’s breakthrough was to make a device that was small and light enough to be easily moved from room to room.

The diagram from James Spangler's patent - showing all the elements of a 'classic' vacuum cleaner.
The diagram from James Spangler’s patent – showing all the elements of a ‘classic’ vacuum cleaner.

He tested and gradually improved his invention as he worked each day in the department store and by September 1907 it was working well enough for him to file a patent application. The patent (No. 889,823) was granted on 2nd June 1908. All he had to do now was sell his invention to the public.

Unfortunately Spangler’s business skills do not seem to have matched his inventiveness. He left his job as a janitor and set up the “Electric Suction Sweeper Company”, but sales were not high and money soon began to run short. James Spangler was on the verge of another failure; then fortune intervened.

One of Spangler’s first customers was his cousin. She was impressed by the machine and sang its praises to her husband. He ran a successful business producing leather goods, mainly harnesses, saddles and other items for horses. However the motor car was increasing in popularity and horse drawn transport was starting to decline. So Spangler’s cousin’s husband was looking for new business opportunities and decided to invest in the “Electric Suction Sweeper Company”. The husband’s name was William Hoover.

By 1910 Hoover was the company president and it soon became the “Hoover Suction Sweeper Company”. Eventually the company became so successful that its name entered the English language as a verb. Although, personally, I think ‘Spangling the living room carpet’ sounds much better than hoovering it.

James Spangler continued to work in the business as the production superintendent and received royalties from every vacuum cleaner sold. Spangler died in 1915, aged 66, the day before he was due to go on his first ever holiday – a trip to Florida – so he never saw his invention become an item that was used in hundreds of millions of homes around the world.

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