Hoover are one of the biggest names in the vacuum cleaner world, with the company name actually being synonymous to the act of vacuum cleaning in some countries (the UK especially). Vacuum Valley takes a look back at the history of Hoover and how they have adapted to rise to the challenges of the competitive modern vacuum cleaner market.
Early Years and Founding
The world’s first upright vacuum cleaner was invented by Murray Spangler, a janitor from Canton, Ohio. Spangler was an asthma sufferer and found that his carpet sweeper would kick up a lot of dust when cleaning rugs and carpets, irritating his airways. It was for this reason he decided to become inventive to try and find a solution to his problem – and he was successful. Using a soapbox, pillowcase, fan and a broomstick he produced the first domestic upright vacuum cleaner. When he realised how well it worked he quickly worked out that this could be a product that interested others and set about manufacturing prototypes for friends and family to try out. He patented the device and the ‘Electric Suction Sweeper’ was born.
One of the people who tried the Electric Suction Sweeper was his cousin Susan Hoover, wife to William H. Hoover, who ran a leather goods manufacturing company with his son. He was impressed enough by the Spangler’s invention that he went ahead and bought the patent before starting the Electic Suction Sweeper Company on $36,000 capital in 1908. The company was renamed to the Hoover Suction Sweeper Company in 1915 after the death of Spangler.
The expensive new product was hard to market outside of the Canton area, so Hoover offered a 10 day free trial from reputable shops in cities around the USA. This proved to be the key to getting national sales, with 372 Model 0s sold by the end of 1908.
Between the years of 1908 – 1941 Hoover expanded and innovated, making a number of key design improvements such as the following:
1926 – Invented the beater bar, a metal bar that would beat the carpet to cause dust to rise up into the air and be sucked up by the vacuum cleaner. This would be the basis for the motorised brush heads that we see on many of today’s modern vacuum cleaners.
1930 – The world’s first handheld vacuum cleaner was developed; the Hoover Dustette.
1932 – Added a headlamp to some models of Hoover vacuum cleaners, called the Hoover Hedlite. This was designed to light up the floor in front of the vacuum in dimly lit rooms.
- 1936 – Henry Dreyfuss sold the patent to an outer casing for a vacuum cleaner to Hoover for $250,000, which would then go on to become the Model 150.
In 1941, all vacuum cleaner production was put on hold at the Ohio factory, effort instead concentrated on providing support for World War II until 1945 when vacuum cleaner production started up again.
Post-Second World War
After rebooting production on vacuum cleaners, Hoover went about with continuing to make innovations, inventing the first rubber hose for their vacuum cleaners instead of the usual cloth-braided design previously. This was dubbed Veriflex and increased the lifetime of Hoover hoses dramatically.
Hoover’s best selling vacuum cleaner is the Convertible line, better known as the Senior line in the UK. The Convertible Model 65 introduced a new feature, a switch which automatically increased the motor speed of the vacuum cleaner when a tool converter was plugged into it. This meant that the extra suction required when using the pipe would be applied automatically, increasingly the versatility of the vacuum cleaner. The video below shows a 1969 Hoover Senior 652A (complete with the Hoover Hedlite) in action.
In 1963 Hoover made their next innovation in the Dial-A-Matic (Convertible in the UK) – a vacuum cleaner that introduced the fan-bypass system, whereby air did not pass through the fan until it had first passed through the bag. This system provides the same level of suction for carpet and above-floor cleaning and so proved popular, with many other manufacturers adopting this design soon after Hoover. The Dial-A-Matic would later feature a “Powerdrive” feature which used the cleaner’s own power to move forwards and backwards based on user input on the handgrip. It was first used on the 1170, making it easy to push despite it being heavier than previous versions of the Dial-A-Matic. Customers would find the 1170 difficult to move if the Powerdrive feature was enabled while the vacuum cleaner was turned off, so would be required to disengage it before attempting to move it. Despite adding to the price of Hoover vacuums, there was a definite market for these in a time when vacuum cleaners could be bulky and difficult to push, and the feature remained available in Hoover models through the 80s and 90s under the new guise “Self Propelled”.
Today and the Future
There are testing times ahead of Hoover. In the face of increased competition they have expanded to provide other household appliances in many countries, but in others such as the USA they still only supply vacuum cleaners. Despite once being the biggest name in the vacuum cleaner industry in the UK and USA, they have now fallen down the pecking order to the likes of Dyson and Vax. In 2000 Hoover attempted to directly compete with Dyson’s Dual Cyclone technology in their Vortex vacuum, arguing that adding an extra cyclone to create a ‘Triple Vortex Cyclone’ did not infringe the patent Dyson had in place. They were however found guilty and the sale of the Vortex vacuum cleaner was banned.
The Dyson patent case was a clear shift for Hoover – instead of leading the market through innovation they had been forced to adjust the ideas of others to keep up. If they are to restore their market share then they will need to go back to their roots and invest in research and development. They will always have a strong brand name, but now need the product to once again stand out from the crowd. If they fail to come up with something revolutionary then you have to wonder just how much longer the term “hoovering” will be used.