This blog highlights another piece of early technology which is held in storage, ‘behind the scenes’ as part of the State collection. It has been written with the assistance of Peter Volk, Assistant Collection Manager, Queensland Museum South Bank.
Vacuuming the carpet as we know it (as a domestic chore) is only a hundred years old. The first powered vacuum was invented by H.Booth in Europe and patented in 1901. This was a large powered contraption that was towed around the streets of London by horses. The operators would take the 100 foot long hose into the buildings to clean, with the noisy motor remaining on the street. While many complaints were made about the noise of the machines, it was also a great success. Tea parties were held to admire the smartly dressed men of the British Vacuum Cleaning Company, entertain guests, and cleaning the house at the same time. The vacuum was even employed to clean Westminster Abby for the coronation of Edward VII, prior to the patent being granted.
On to other side of the Atlantic, James Spangler attached an electric motor to a fan and brush and used one of his wife’s pillow cases to catch the dirt. The design worked and he received a patient in 1908 for the first electric vacuum cleaner. A relative of James saw the commercial potential of the design and bought the patent. The product and company were so successful that the name is synonymous with vacuuming today, William Henry Hoover.
However, back in the early 1900s the electric vacuum was not an instant success. Electricity was not widely available and the fear of electrocution was high.
Enter the Baby Daisy. Designed in France and built in England in 1910, at the same time as the electric vacuum, the baby daisy was a manual powered device so there was no need for electricity or fear of electrocution. The Baby Daisy required two people to operate it. The first person provided the power by standing on the base of the bellows and moving it back a forth with the aid of a broomstick in the holder on the front.
This movement was a key design feature as it has a double connected bellows, meaning that movement in either direction created a vacuum. The second operator would use the attached hose to clean the house. Dust and dirt was collected in a cotton bag within the machine. While the vacuum required two people to operate and had limited suction power, it was far better than using a broom to clean dust and dirt from carpets and rugs.