Antecedents

Before electricity cleaning the carpet was a seasonal job.  The family would remove the carpet from the house and drape it over the clothes line.  They would then use a carpet beater to force the dirt and dust out of the carpet.[1] This process was time consuming and labor intensive.  Most carpet beaters were plain connections of loops, sometimes knotted and curved. They were made with and without wooden grips, and in their basic shape would be uncomfortable and awkward to brandish successfully. Consequently, the carpet beater advanced its raised handle into a more useful design which would allow the consumer to position themselves at an angle to the carpet being cleaned, and would allow a more accommodating grasp on the beater itself. These carpet beaters were inexpensive and easily reasonably priced.[2]

The industrial age was on the rise and more factories were being built.  People were becoming more aware that cleaning their rugs or wood floors would help.  The dustpan and broom (or brush) was a good way for the housewife to achieve this goal.   The dustpan may appear to be a type of flat scoop.  It is often hand held for home use, but industrial and commercial enterprises often use a hinged variety on the end of a stick to prevent the user from constantly stooping to use it.  Handheld dustpans may be used with either a full-size broom or with a smaller whisk broom or brush sometimes called a duster.  It was invented by the American inventor T.E. McNeill in 1858.  Lloyd P. Ray invented the more complex stand-up variant of the dustpan. This was one of almost 200 variations of McNeill’s dustpan that were granted patents by the turn of the century.[3]

An old form of broom was the besom, which was made simply of twigs tied to a handle, and was relatively inefficient as a cleaning implement. Flat brooms, made of broom corn, were invented by Shakers in the 19th century. Today, they are also commonly made with synthetic bristles. Another common type is the push broom, consisting of a wide brush with short bristles, to which a broomstick is attached at an angle. Sweeping was not 100% effective in reducing the bacteria from the home, it was still the only way to do this task.[4]

Initial mechanical sweepers can be traced back to around 1811. It was not until 1876 that a lucrative design was introduced by Melville and Anna Bissell. Melville and Anna were in the business of selling china which came packed in sawdust. Melville purchased a carpet sweeper and was less than thrilled with it, so he decided to invent his own carpet sweeper.[5] (insert pic) The carpet sweeper he invented was easy to move across the floor and great for a quick cleaning. (insert pic)  Nonelectric carpet sweepers, always dominated by the Bissell Company, had literally swept the nation beginning in the 1880’s.[6]


[1] Jessica H. Foy and Thomas J. Schlereth, American Home Life, 1880-1930. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 15-16.

[2] Susan Strasser, Never Done: A History of American Housework. (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1982), 35-36

[3] Strasser, Never Done: A History of American Housework, 36

[4] Foy, American Home Life, 15-16.

[5] Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. (New York: Harper Collins Publishing, 1989), 140-141.

[6] Strasser, Never Done: A History of American Housework, 78.

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