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WASHINGTON-In 1928, some households used their vacuums as hair dryers. They simply placed the hollow handle near the hot stove, turned on the vacuum, placed the base near the wet hair and voila!

That's just one of the many vacuum tidbits visitors can learn at the Smithsonian Institution's latest exhibit "History in a Vacuum," which was unveiled during "Fall Cleaning Day" at the Museum of American History here.

From vintage to robotic vacuums, "Cleaning Day" emphasized the dramatic technological changes that have occurred in the world of household cleaning over the past century. Representatives from Eureka wowed the crowd with demonstrations of their new robotic vacuum.

"Vacuuming is not one of the most favorite jobs in the world," said Eureka spokeswoman Kathy Luedke. "So we've been looking for ways to make the task easier."

In development for the past six years, the robot vacuum uses built-in sonar to navigate and clean a room. The vacuum, about 15 inches in diameter, holds two dry quarts of debris and runs on battery power for one hour.

Developer Per Ljunggren said the process of creating the vacuum was arduous.

"Many companies try to make robots, but it takes a lot of resources," he said. "We started with the concept and then started learning the technology. The biggest challenge was making it cost-efficient."

Eureka is finalizing the production details for the vacuum, which should be in stores in less than five years. Anticipated retail cost is about $1,000.

Also at "Cleaning Day," history curators displayed and demonstrated vintage vacuum cleaners including a 1929 Singer upright, as well as a 1930 Hoover upright. In addition, Smithsonian curators gave a presentation about the worries of germs, disease and dirt and showed historic vacuum and cleaning films.

The actual vacuum showcase, said curator Barbara Clark Smith, follows history as carpet beaters and brooms gave way to electric vacuum cleaners and people developed new cleaning routines. The showcase explores why the changes occurred and how the technological advancements affected society.

Artifacts featured in the showcase include a 1960s' Jetsons' comic book featuring Rosey the robotic maid doing the vacuuming; a 1932 Eureka vacuum cleaner; a Deshler Victoria parlor broom from the 1930s; a child's toy carpet sweeper from 1908; a Reeves hand-powered vacuum cleaner from 1905; and a variety of advertisements for cleaners and cleaning products.

"`History in a Vacuum' shows the way that rising standards of cleanliness, concerns about germs and the idea that cleaning is women's work alone have combined to make housework -- even at the end of the millennium -- still seem as if its `never done,' " Smith said.

The exhibit is on display at the National Museum of American History's Material World through the end of the year. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free.
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Author:Maxwell, Alison
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 8, 1999

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