Impact

The invention of the vacuum cleaner was a blessing and a curse.  The problem was that women would be spending more time in the home taking care of housework and rearing the children.  The blessing from the vacuum cleaner is that it would remove dirt and dust from the home providing less bacteria and germs.  So not only were there social and cultural impacts of owning and using a vacuum cleaner, there were also environmental and health effects to the American family.

The idea of technology to improve the home was making a woman job easier, but it was confining her to the home making her a domestic slave doing domestic labor.[1] The earlier made cleaners were “clumsy of construction” and “awkward to handle” that it required 2 people to operate it.[2] As time moved forward vacuum cleaners were getting better by design and more comfortable to use.  The housewife broke the curse for the vacuum cleaner by saying that it was fast and easy and the attachments “Made short work of cleaning hangings, tufted furniture, cornices, picture frames, and remote corners under bureaus and bookcases.”[3] Vacuum cleaners also cleaned more thoroughly than brooms and made it possible for the housewife to do other chores or duties.[4]

The United States was not the only country trying to gain information about domestic duties.  These studies included getting observed data from these housewives.  The data would consist of time budget studies and detailed analysis of their everyday routines including washing and drying dishes, waste disposal, washing, drying and ironing clothes, and vacuuming.[5] In 1941 the Bureau of Labor released statistics that 80% of all the residences in the United States were wired for electricity, 79% of the housekeeping families had electric irons, 52% had power washing machines and refrigerators, and 47% had vacuum cleaners.[6]

The environmental and health impact that the vacuum cleaner had was immense to the American family.  H. Cecil Booth, a British engineer, invented a gas powered vacuum cleaner.[7] It was so large that it had to be transported around by a vehicle.  He used this machine to remove tons of germ-laden dust and dirt particles from many public places like theaters, shops and even homes.  During World War II he received an assignment to remove suspected germs from the Crystal Palace.  Naval reserve men were quarantined with spotted fever in this building and were dying fast.  After 2 weeks of vacuuming and many truckloads of dust and dirt, his vacuum cleaner put an end to this epidemic.[8]

The vacuum cleaners that are manufactured today have included filters and special dust bags to help reduce allergens, pesticides, and anything else that could affect your health.  There have been studies done that corroborate the vacuum cleaners contribution to reduce these dust allergens.[9] The vacuum cleaner has also been tested to see what kind of allergens and pesticides are being exposed to the families in the home.  Small children who spend a lot of time on the carpet are at high risk to becoming exposed to these harmful dust particles.[10] The vacuum cleaner keeps the waste and assures its nonuse. Everything that goes into the vacuum cleaner becomes an item for discard.[11] The vacuum cleaner is one of the topmost domestic goods ever produced.  Its speed and efficiency makes available extra time for relaxation and less for cleaning. It’s obvious that the vacuum has an important and notable history.[12] This reducer of pollutants, eliminator of germs and helper to the common housewife   will be around for many years to come.


[1] Susan E. Reid, “The Khrushchev Kitchen: Domesticating the Scientific-Technological Revolution.” Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 40, No. 2 (April 2005): 291, http://www.jstor.org/stable/30036325 (accessed March 2, 2011),

[2] Jessica H. Foy and Thomas J. Schlereth, American Home Life, 1880-1930. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 243.

[3] Susan Strasser, Never Done: A History of American Housework (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1982), 80.

[4] Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (U.S.A.: Basic Books Inc., 1983), 174.

[5] Reid, The Khrushchev Kitchen, 302.

[6] Cowan, More Work for Mother, 94.

[7] Charles Panati, Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things. (New York: Harper Collins Publishing, 1989) 138.

[8] Ibid., 139.

[9] Richard L. Corsi, Jeffrey A. Siegel, and Chunyi Chiang, “Particle Resuspension During the Use of Vacuum Cleaners on Residential Carpet.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (April 2008) http://www.jstor.org/stable/32092712 (accessed February 2, 2011), 232-233.

[10] Joanne S. Colt, et al., “Household vacuum cleaners vs. the high-volume surface sampler for collection of carpet dust samples.” Environmental Health (February 2008) http://www.jstor.org/stable/35703159 (accessed February 2, 2011), 2.

[11] Glen G. Eye, “Vacuum Cleaners vs. Air Conditioners.” The Journal of Educational Research 68, no. 3 (November 1974), http://www.jstor.org/stable/27536699 (accessed February 2, 2011), 132.

[12] The Great Idea Finder, Vacuum Cleaner, http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/vacleaner.htm (accessed February 2, 2011).

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