The first vintage vacuum cleaners & the history of the famous Hoover Company

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Vintage vacuum from 1908

The history of the Hoover vacuum company (as of 1955)

From the Terre Haute Tribune-Star (Indiana) March 6, 1955

The Hoover Company is the oldest and most widely-known manufacturer of vacuum cleaners in the world.

It started with a working force of six persons in the corner of the Hoover leather goods and harness factory in 1908.

It now has mere than 18,080 employees in the worldwide organization. It has factories in Canada, Britain, Australia, France, and sales offices in most of the world’s principal cities. It makes electric motors, electric irons, washers, floor polishers and castings in addition to its famous cleaners.

The company is a monument to the foresight of the late W. H. “Boss” Hoover and his son, H. W. Hoover, who were successful manufacturers of the “horse-and-buggy” era.

In 1907, the W. H. Hoover Company was a progressive, profitable firm making a high-grade line of leather items for the automotive industry, as well as saddlery, harness and other leather goods.

1963 Vintage vacuum - Cleaning - Hoover 1912

The business of tanning and making leather goods went back nearly a hundred years in the Hoover family. The Hoovers were Ohio pioneers, and they had grown up with the country.

In 1907, they were a leading and respected family in the area around Canton, Ohio. Their business was firmly established and flourishing. In the leather trade, they were nationally known.

Looking for new business ventures

But in 1906, the shadow of the automobile industry was falling upon the saddlery business. It was still a small shadow, but the Hoovers saw its significance. They looked around for other possible enterprises.

At that time there were a number of vacuum cleaners on the market. In fact, there were vacuum cleaners “operated by hand or foot” as far back as 1871, and perhaps farther. Vacuum cleaners powered by an electric motor began to come in by the turn of the century. However, none had captured any appreciable portion of the national market.

It occurred to “H W.” and his father that there were real opportunities in electric cleaners that would help the homemaker in her daily house cleaning tasks.

Hoover vacuum cleaners - 1915

Sparked by new production and merchandising ideas, they started to make them in 1908. They called their new organization the Electric Suction Sweeper Co., and it was assigned a corner of the leather goods factory.

The office and sales force consisted of H. W. Hoover. His father kept an eye on the infant industry, but “H.W.” was the mainspring that started a new industry on its way.

The small plant was geared to put out five or six cleaners a day. While almost nothing as compared to today’s volume, it promptly created the first big problem: “How to sell them?”

From the Hoovers’ experience in the saddlery business, it seemed best to approach the public through the medium of local merchants. Descriptive literature was printed, order blanks prepared. Prospective dealers were circularized by mail. H. W. Hoover personally called on local merchants and made out-of-town trips. armed with samples.

“H.W.” was literally the entire sales department. His usual procedure was to approach a prospective dealer with a sample machine and invite him to go out with him to see how easily it could be sold.

Mr. Hoover would make a demonstration for a possible purchaser, with the dealer as a witness. If Mr. Hoover made the sale, the dealer, impressed by the ease with which the sale was made, would place an order for additional machines.

But this procedure proved too slow for “H.W.” and his associates. So, in October, 1908, the first traveling salesman was employed to go on the road to line up more dealers. A small advertisement in “Electrical World” solicited dealers, and the first Hoover national advertisement was run in the December 5, 1906, issue of the ‘Saturday Evening Post.’

This advertisement offered a ten-day free trial of the Electric Suction Sweeper in the home. It brought inquiries from hundreds of prospective purchasers.

Handling these inquiries presented a problem to the limited office staff, and E.B. Schiltz, a civil engineer for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, was persuaded to join the company, specifically to help answer the inquiries.

Mr. Schiltz later said that what ‘sold’ him on the job was the demonstration H.W. Hoover gave him.

‘We had to go to his mother’s home just beside the office.” he said. “At that time there were no demonstrating materials stocked, so as we were going to his home H. W. gathered his material on the way. East Maple street was not paved then, and there was dust on the road that made real demonstrating material.

“He picked up a handful of dust, and as we went up the walk to his house, he nicked up a handful of dried grass. Naturally, I was amazed when I saw how the cleaner would pick up this dust and grass after it had been spread around on the carpet.”

Hoover Suction Sweeper Co. manual from 1910 (3)

Selling Hoover’s vintage vacuum cleaners

The plan worked out for handling inquiries from the first advertisement was simple but effective.

A letter was sent to the person making the inquiry saying that a sweeper would be sent to him through a local dealer. A dealer in the prospect’s town would then be selected, and advised that a sweeper was being sent to him, prepaid express, for delivery to the prospect.

If the prospect purchased the sweeper, the dealer collected a commission. If the prospect did not buy, the dealer was urged to keep the sweeper as a sample and become a regular outlet. A good many excellent dealers were lined up in this manner.

In the meantime, many mechanical improvements were being made in the sweeper. In the fall of 1909, an additional model was designed and put on the market, but was later withdrawn as too heavy.

Such early discouragements were more than balanced by success in selling. The company expanded its advertising budget until its announcements were appearing in several national publications.

In May, 1909, the company took another notable forward step when it inaugurated an engineering and design development program, under the leadership of Francis Mills Case.

A prominent mechanical engineer, Mr. Case was quick to recognize the significance of carpet vibration in dirt removal. His development work on this principle gave Hoover cleaners an exclusive feature they still have — the gentle, beating or tapping of the carpet to loosen deeply embedded dirt and grit, by a patented agitator bar.

The Hoover Suction Sweeper manual from 1910

This, in addition to the brushing action by revolving brushes and strong suction, produces Hoover’s famous “triple action.” It is a big factor in the company’s leadership today in the vacuum cleaner field.

The years 1909 and 1910, were periods of development and expansion in the industry as a whole. The introduction of fractional horsepower motors gave impetus to other manufacturers as well as to Hoover.

Other types of vacuum cleaners were marketed. The public was becoming more and more conscious of their value in cleaning the home.

The Hoover selling organization, under the leadership of H. W. Hoover, was taking shape. In 1910, Mr. Hoover inaugurated many of the sales policies which have been such an important factor in the growth of the company since.

More new models were developed, each embodying designs created by Mr. Case. New employees were added, some of whom are today the company’s top executives.

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An assembly plant was established in Windsor, Ontario, in 1911 marking the company’s first step into the foreign field.

Sales were not only increasing, but also were expanding to other countries. In 1912, sales were made in Norway, France, Russia, Belgium, Holland, and Scotland.

Vintage Torrington vacuum cleaner from the 1920s

The Hoover vacuums become popular

The popularity of the vacuum cleaner was reflected in a phrase from the “Saturday Evening Post” of the time: “If you have a dog, and if your dog has fleas beyond a reasonable amount… use your vacuum cleaner… and the fleas will be removed to the bag, much to “their surprise and much to the dog’s relief.”

World War I, unlike World War II, had little effect on the vacuum cleaner business, but it did mark a revival of the company’s leather goods business. The Hoover Company made such items as straps and cable tracers for the British government, saddles for the French, bridles for the Russian government, and various other items.

H. Earl Hoover, now chairman of the board, came with the company in 1914 as chief engineer, and designed Hoover cleaners until 1919. He also supervised the company’s advertising.

In 1916, the first unit of the modern Hoover plant was started. This was a three-story red brick structure which now occupies the southwest corner of the factory. Its scheme of architecture has been followed ever since, so the whole now comprises a huge, attractive unit. It is set in a neighborhood of trees, shrubs, old homes and well-groomed lawns.

The company’s famous slogan. “It Beats as it Sweeps as it Cleans”, was created in 1919. This slogan, still used, has been very effective in stimulating Hoover sales. From the time it was devised. it helped raise the company to one with a worldwide standing.

Vintage vacuum cleaners history - Hoover models from 1922 (1)

In 1919, it was decided to quit entirely the manufacture of leather and saddlery goods and Frank G. Hoover, H. W.’s younger brother who had been in charge of that end of the business, came into the growing electric cleaner organization as associate general manager.

The Hoover Suction Sweeper Co., Ltd., was officially launched this same year in Britain, after a prolonged visit to England by H. W. Hoover. This was another step into the foreign field. Ground was broken for a new factory at Hamilton, Ontario — a third step.

The Hoover engineering department, now one of the most complete and elaborate of its kind in the world, was started under H. Earl Hoover, chief engineer, in 1919. Since then many millions have been spent in engineering and research. Employee activities were encouraged, including baseball and other sports. It was a year of booming progress, which continued on through 1920.

While the post-war depression of 1921 hit the Hoover Company, sales training programs were revised, sales contests were stepped up, and sales procedures and policies were greatly strengthened in that year.

1922 saw the end of the name “The Hoover Suction Sweeper Company,” which had followed the original, “Electric Suction Sweeper Company,” and the birth of its successor, “The Hoover Company,” under whose articles of incorporation the company operates today.

Sales showed a healthy improvement over the previous year and sales promotion activities were greatly expanded.

The first of the Hoover International Sales Conventions was held in 1921. These conventions became an annual event, with sales delegates from foreign countries attending. The site of the convention was at “Hoover Camp,” on the original land grant conveyed by President John Quincy Adams to Henry Hoover, grandfather of W.H. Hoover.

Hoover Suction Sweeper (patented 1908)
Hoover Suction Sweeper (patented 1908)

The millionth Hoover cleaner was made in 1923; only four years later, the second millionth came off the assembly line; and after another four years, the third millionth.

The company’s modern and architecturally handsome plant in Perivale, England, was opened in 1932, and today supplies cleaners for most overseas countries. including those in the British Empire, Europe, and South America.

H.W. Hoover, vice president and general manager of the company since its inception, was elevated to the presidency in 1922 and W. H. Hoover became chairman of the board.

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The death of W. H. Hoover in 1932 at the age of 82 was mourned by thousands of friends. The nickname of “Boss” Hoover was a term of affection, for he was known as the boss “who never bossed anyone.”

With the coming of World War II, the Hoover Company temporarily stopped the manufacture of vacuum cleaners and went all-out into war production.

It produced over 25 million M-48 and M-51 fuses for Army Ordnance. Plastic molding presses were converted to produce helmet liners and fuse parts. The sewing machines and textile equipment, which normally made bags for cleaners, turned out parachutes for fragmentation bombs. The motor line was converted to making propeller pitch control motors, turret motors and amplidynes for use on bombers.

But the company’s outstanding war job was to produce components for the V.T. or proximity fuse, rated as extremely important in winning the war. This fuse was made to explode a projectile when it was about 70 feet from the target, thus eliminating the necessity for direct hits. The company won the Army-Navy “E” Award five times.

It quickly reconverted to peace-time production after V-J Day, and in the same year began the manufacture of fractional horsepower motors by acquiring control of the Kingston-Conley Electric Co., of Plainfield, N.J.

The company now makes all of its electric motors for other than vacuum cleaners at this plant. It is known as the Electric Motors Division of The Hoover Company. Early in 1948, it began to make electric irons at a new plant in Cambridge, Ohio.

In December 1948. H. W. Hoover relinquished his post as president of the company, but retained the board chairmanship. He was succeeded as president by his younger brother. Frank G. Hoover, who had been active with the company since it was in the saddlery business, and who had been vice president for many years.

Vintage vacuum cleaners history - Hoover models from 1922 (2)

During F.G. Hoover’s tenure as president, the company formed a special products division, which took over the sale of electric irons, fractional horsepower motors, Dustettes (made by the British Company) and floor polishers (made by the Canadian Company).

In April 1951, Mr. F.G. Hoover resigned the presidency and was succeeded by J.F. Hattersley who, for the previous 1-1/2 years had been the company’s executive vice president.

Following the retirement of Mr. Hattersley as president at the end of 1953, H. W. Hoover, Jr., eldest son of H.W. Hoover, was elected to the post. In the spring of 1954, the latter was elevated to honorary chairman of the board and succeeded as board chairman by H. Earl Hoover.

H.W. Hoover Jr., who graduated from Rollins College in 1941, brought to the company a new spirit of enterprise that was reflected in his interest in new products, new sales methods and new ideas. He had familiarized himself with production methods by working in the plant during summer vacations.

After being demobilized from the Army in 1945 as a second lieutenant, he was made director of public relations. He assumed higher executive posts in the following years, went to Europe on important assignments on several occasions during which time he became familiar with the worldwide Hoover organization.

He entered upon his new duties as president, well-qualified by experience and training, and with one purpose: to keep the company at the forefront of the electric appliance industry.

In 1953, the special products division was, greatly expanded. It sells to distributors, whereas the long-established resale organization sells direct to dealers and consumers.

The special products organization now sells the floor polisher, steam iron, washer and “Pixie.” The latter is a small cleaner which can be carried from the shoulder by a strap.

The death of H. W. Hoover on September 16, 1954, brought messages of condolence from all over the world. They, as well as the floral tributes, which banked the church where his body lay in state for 24 hours, attested to his worldwide fame as an industrialist and humanitarian.

Scarcely 2-1/2 months later — December 3, 1954 — his brother, Frank G. Hoover, also passed away. Their name will ever be linked with the founding and development of the vacuum cleaner industry.

The company at this writing has manufactured in the neighborhood of a third of all the vacuum cleaners in use today. A product almost unknown four decades ago has become a household word.


Vintage Robbins and Myers vacuum cleaner (1917)

Vintage Robbins and Myers vacuum cleaner history from 1917


The Hoover electric suction sweeper (1918)

Sweeps up all stubborn clinging dirt

Only the Hoover instantly sweeps up even the stubbornest-clinging lint, threads, hairs and litter — and without scattering clouds of dust. Only the Hoover beats out embedded grit, straightens crushed nap and restores original brightness — besides “vacuum cleaning” carpetings. The Hoover Beating-Sweeping Brush is patented.

The Hoover electric suction sweeper (1918)


Hoover for sanitary cleaning (1920)

Immaculate rugs are safe playgrounds for the children. Clean thoroughly to protect childhood’s precious health. Beat out embedded dirt and germs. Sweep up all litter that clings. Suction away all loose grime.

Do it frequently. Only The Hoover performs these essentials of sanitary cleaning. And it is the largest selling electric cleaner in the world.

1920 Hoover Suction Sweeper vacuum 2


Vintage Hoover: It beats – as it sweeps – as it cleans (1920)

Moths are unable to indulge their expensive appetites in the depths of the rug that is frequently beaten by The Hoover. Those which burrow deeply to feast or to deposit their eggs are speedily removed, together with all destructive, embedded grit.

Besides beating, The Hoover swiftly sweeps up all stubborn litter, rights crushed nap, renews colorings and suction cleans. Only The Hoover performs these essentials. And it is the largest selling electric cleaner in the world.

1920 Hoover Suction Sweeper vacuum


Very old vacuum cleaners for sale at the J C Harding Store in Washington DC

Vacuum cleaners for sale in c1910s - J C Harding Store in Washington DC


Richmond Suction Sweeper vacuum (1909)
1909 vintage ad for Richmond Suction Sweeper vacuum

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Parts for this vintage vacuum

From the Instructions for care and use of the Hoover suction sweeper (1910)

1 — Suction Pan (Aluminum)
2 — Taper Nozzle (Rubber)
3 — Three Inch Nozzle (Rubber)
4 — Four Inch Brush Nozzle (with rubber apron)
5 — Five Inch Nozzle (Aluminum)
6 — Blower Connection (Aluminum)
7 — Nickeled Tube (Two 20 inch sections, iX inch diameter)
8 — Rubber Hose (10 feet x iX inches)
9 — Library Brush (Aluminum)
10 — 90 Degree Elbow
11 — 45 Degree Elbow
12 — Felt Brush for No. 14
13 — Bristle Brush for No. 14
14 — Brush Housing (Aluminum)
15 — Three Orifice Nozzle (Aluminum)
16 — Carrying Case (Keratol Leather)

Hoover Suction Sweeper Co. manual from 1910 (1)

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Diagram of vintage vacuum cleaner parts

Hoover Suction Sweeper Co. manual from 1910 (2)

21 Handle
22 Binding Nut and Bolt
23 Handle Fork
24 Tilting Fulcrum
25 Handle Bracket, left hand
26 Handle Bracket, right hand
27 Motor
28 Electric Cord
29 Plug connection on end of cord
30 Switch
31 Motor supporting ring
32 Drum or frame
33 Suction Fan
34 Castors
35 Carrier Wheels
36 Carrier Wheel Bearings
37 Hand Hole Cover
38 Brush Belt
39 Brush
40 Brush Shaft
41 Brush Bearings
42 Brush Supports
43 Thread Guards
44 Brush Guard
45 Furniture Guard
46 Inner Bag
47 Outer Bag

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