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SWEEPING ACHIEVEMENTS; THROUGHOUT THE VAC INDUSTRY, COMPANIES ARE REACHING THE CENTURY MARK.

CLEVELAND-Get ready for a spate of centennial celebrations in floor care.

Here's an industry that virtually was invented here in the first decade of the 20th century. Many of the biggest manufacturers in this business are approaching their 100th anniversaries, and a few already have partied.

Records of mechanical floor cleaners date at least to 1699, and introductions of electrical machines coincide with Thomas Edison and the availability of electricity. Information for this report came from numerous sources and relied heavily on the late Earl Lifshey, longtime editor at this publication, who wrote "The Housewares Story," the definitive industry history for what was then the National Housewares Manufacturers Association.

The great-granddaddy (it's four generations now) of current companies is Bissell. In fact, it commemorated 125 years on Sept. 19, 2001. That was the anniversary of Melville Bissell's patent for his mechanical carpet sweeper, though his heirs didn't market vacuum cleaners till the 1950s.

Other companies tracing origins to the 19th century in the United States and in Europe include Lewyt, Regina (to sell music boxes), Euro-Pro (sewing machines) and Miele (cream separators). In 1900, Ives McGaffney electrified his hand-crank device: It didn't sell, but inspired others. In 1901, David Kenney (or Kenny) received the first patent for an electric machine.

That same year, DeLonghi began with heating products and AB Lux was founded to make kerosene lamps. Elektromekaniska AB followed in 1910 to make vacs; they got together in 1919 as A.-B. Elektrolux.

For centennials to come, look first to P.A. Geier Co., born in Cleveland in 1905. Cliff Wood, retired as secretary of the Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association, did some research and concluded that the company's first Royal machines appeared about 1911. The corporate name was changed to Royal Appliance Manufacturing in 1953, and the Dirt Devil Hand Vac appeared in 1984.

In 1906, Jim Kirby, also in Cleveland, invented his first vacuum cleaner, using water for dirt separation. The following year, he produced a cleaner using centrifugal force.

At the same time, a bit to the south in New Berlin (now North Canton), Ohio, J. Murray Spangler was an asthmatic inventor who moonlighted as a janitor. Like Melville Bissell and others, he was a victim of workshop dust. Spangler combined a soap box, fan, sateen pillowcase and broomstick into a portable suction sweeper.

Spangler's cousin, William H. (Boss) Hoover, was so taken with it that he bought the patent, built the machine in his leather shop and began promoting it. In 1908, Hoover founded the Electric Suction Sweeper Co. This Model O weighed only 40 pounds when other sweepers of the day were as much as 100 pounds.

Eureka quickly followed, founded in 1909 by a Detroit businessman named Fred Wardell. He thought the legendary Greek word meaning "I found it!" reflected the innovation in his product.

From the start, his machines were lightweight. By 1913, Eureka offered six models with attachments that could also be used as hair dryers.

One of the big names in the early days was Apex, arising in Cleveland in 1911. The Frantz brothers were credited with numerous advancements until the company was dissolved during World War II.

In 1912, a machine shop was opened by S. Duncan Black and Alonzo G. Decker. In the same year, Tokuji Hayakawa set up a Tokyo metal works that evolved into Sharp.

By 1913, there were enough producers that 11 of them formed the Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturers Association. That's one way to define the creation of an industry.
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Author:Beatty, Gerry
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Dec 8, 2003
Words:584
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