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Thursday, 30 August, 2001, 09:26 GMT 10:26 UK
Sucking up to the vacuum cleaner
Robotic vacuum cleaner
Designs have changed dramatically
A machine which revolutionised the domestic chores of every household is celebrating 100 years of cleaning power.

Thursday marks the centenary of the first patent of the vacuum cleaner, and the Science Museum in London , UK, is running a series of events to honour the occasion.

Over the years, changing fashions and advances in technology have seen machines vary from the early, cumbersome contraptions - some as big as a car - to the very latest robotic models.

The Science Museum has used the occasion to unveil the very latest robotic labour saving device, the Dyson DC06, which uses sensors and on-board computers to navigate around even the most fragile objects.

Vacuuming facts
In 1903, society ladies threw 'vacuum cleaner parties'
In 1938, about 70% of vacuum cleaners were sold by door-to-door salesmen
James Dyson built 5,000 prototypes before perfecting his Dual Cyclone machine
In May 2001, Dyson had 29% of the vacuum cleaner market by volume and 52% by value
It has taken four years to develop and is due to go on sale next year with a 2,000 price tag.

Electrolux is also keeping abreast of modern developments with its own Robovac.

A hundred years ago, a very different beast was born when engineer Hubert Cecil Booth invented the Puffing Billy.

Booth's machines became the talk of the town and he was called upon to perform a number of unusual jobs - like cleaning the girders of Crystal Palace, which were suffering from accumulated dust.

Booth was asked to dispatch a machine to the scene.

Birth of the Hoover

He ended up sending 15 machines, and over four weeks vacuumed up 26 tonnes of dust.

After the launch of the first vacuum cleaner, it was six years before the invention of a machine which would not only revolutionise our lives, but our vocabulary.

One of the earlier contraptions
An early vacuum cleaner
In 1907, William Henry Hoover produced the first commercial bag-on-a-stick upright vacuum cleaner in Ohio, USA, although he was not responsible for its design.

He bought the patent from his wife's cousin, James Murray Spangler.

By 1919, Hoover cleaners were being manufactured in the UK, complete with the "beater bar" to establish the time honoured slogan "It beats as it sweeps as it cleans".

In 1926, Booth's British Vacuum Cleaner and Engineering Company branded all its domestic vacuum cleaners under the famous "Goblin" trade name.

The Dyson revolution

A few improvements were made over the years, including the introduction of re-usable paper bags, but there were no more revolutionary developments until James Dyson introduced the Cyclon - the first bagless dual cyclone machine.

James Dyson with his Dual Cyclone cleaner
Dyson: Determined to succeed
It took him 15 years and 5,000 prototypes before he perfected his design.

Refusing to accept the knock-backs - when he offered his technology to Hotpoint in 1982, he was told "This project is dead from the neck up" - he persevered, and has since cornered the British market.

With the dawn of the robotic age, yet another chapter is unfolding in the vacuum cleaner's colourful history, which is set to take the effort out of cleaning even further.

Perhaps the only challenge that remains is to develop a vacuum cleaner with a brain, which decides when the carpet needs cleaning and proceeds to carry out the task independently of human contact.

We live in hope.

The Science Museum has organised a series of events on Thursday 30 August to mark the 100th anniversary of the vacuum cleaner. Visitors will be able to see the UK's most comprehensive collection of machines.

See also:

03 May 01 | Sci/Tech
Carpets harbour 'toxic dust'
03 Jun 99 | UK
Life of a pioneer
12 Jan 01 | Business
Hoover wins court battle with Dyson
30 Nov 97 | Sci/Tech
A lot less bother...
15 Feb 00 | Business
Dyson goes abroad
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