Today in History – February 18, 1901 - First vacuum cleaner patented by Hubert Cecil Booth, an English structural engineer. This design had the disadvantage that it had no way to collect the dust and never became a commercial success. In 1907, James Spangler, a janitor working in Canton, Ohio, was not aware of this Booth’s design, but was motivate to clean floors and carpets more effectively as he suffered from asthma. He built the first motorized vacuum cleaner using an old motor fan attached to a soap box and broom handle, using a pillowcase as a dust collector. Spangler is credited with building the first commercially successful vacuum cleaner and obtained his patent in 1908. One of his first customers was his cousin and her husband William H. Hoover, who eventually formed the Hoover Company in 1922. For the next one hundred years the basic operation of a vacuum cleaner remained the same – dirt was collected in a dust bag that required replacing and cleaning out a filter.
Then a British industrial designer and engineer, James Dyson, made it his mission to build a better vacuum cleaner. He used a high speed motor to produce a constant suction through centrifugal force and used the volume of the cleaner to replace the bag. Hoover and Electrolux did not take his invention seriously and refused to consider the idea when Dyson first discussed it with them. Instead Dyson formed his own company. His ‘vacuum cleaner that doesn’t lose suction’ is a market leader, one that excels in quality products, as well as cutting edge industrial design. I am always struck by James Dyson’s claim that he built 5,127 prototypes before he got it right. This reminds me of IDEO‘s philosophy of “fail early and often to succeed at the end”. Dyson argues that there is more we canlearn from failures than from successes.
Another recent vacuum cleaner innovation is the iRobots series called “Roomba” that uses artificial intelligence and robotics to “automatically” vacuum, even when no humans are in the room. The co-inventors were Rodney Brooks, Helen Greiner, and Colin Angle.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on the James Dyson, vacuum cleaner design, and industrial design. For related educational resources, visit the Mechanical Engineering Education and the Engineering Management community sites. The Engineering Pathway also hosts Engineering Education communities in all ABET-accredited disciplines.
Also on this date in 1930, Tombaugh discovers the dwarf planet Pluto.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway‘s resources on the Pluto and space exploration. For related educational resources, visit the Aerospace Engineering Education Community site.