Yesterday’s disrupters are today’s modern conveniences: the Vacuum Cleaner
By Nell Mackenzie
Yesterday’s disrupters are today’s modern conveniences: the Vacuum Cleaner
20 Nov 2015 - Uncategorized

Still sucking up the opposition

Despite its regulatory and engineering drawbacks, the first electric vacuum, Hubert Cecil Booth’s ‘Puffing Billy’, cleared the path for industrial vacuum cleaners to come.

The Puffing Billy was an oversized horse drawn vehicle that required a 100 foot hose and incurred fines for noise, frightening horses and illegal parking. Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.21.08

Booth came up with the idea at the Empire Music Hall in America while witnessing a botched demonstration of an earlier model of the vacuum cleaner. Watching the demonstrator disperse the dust rather than ‘hoovered’ it, Booth asked him whether suction would be better than pressure. The man replied indignantly that suction had been tried on numerous occasions but didn’t work. Booth was not convinced and created his model based on suction. 

Like Morse and his telegraph, Booth eventually drowned out the copious complaints of his neighbours and the local police to win the support of influencers.

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.20.56Booth vacuumed the red carpet for Edward VII’s coronation, Crystal Palace and even garnered the British Navy as a client.  Booth’s ‘Billy’ became a ‘thing’. Society ladies in England invited their friends over for vacuum parties.

However, Booth was never quite clean of a scrape. After giving a vacuum demonstration at the Royal Mint, he was stopped by the police. Booth had forgotten to empty the vacuum’s bag, which contained a large quantity of gold dust from the Mint.

Regulatory trouble has never fully departed the annals of the vacuum cleaner and it’s innovators. Sir James Dyson appeared in the Telegraph only a week ago, filing lawsuits against Bosch and railing about EU Environmental Regulations.

Despite the enormous environmental benefit of a vacuum cleaner without bags, EU regulators have cracked down on Dyson. As of October 2014, machines sold in the EU cannot operate above 1600 Watts making many of the Dyson models on the market at the time, redundant.

Dyson has long argued that the EU’s testing standards are skewed because they occur in a lab and without the use of dust. His team also argue that efforts to cut carbon emissions and save energy are pointless under the current energy rating system. To get the same results with an underpowered machine, people will just vacuum for longer, causing the same negative impact on the environment.Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 11.21.57

Dyson’s vacuum cleaner has been plagued with the pressures of innovation since its invention. During its building period of five years, the original model needed 5,127 tweaks and modifications. Dyson relied on his wife’s income to sustain the family when numerous British retailers initially rejected the inventor’s idea.

Sir James Dyson continues to powers on, in spite of regulatory and legal drawbacks.

“[There are] fridges tested with no food, vacuum cleaners tested with no dust, and washing machines tested at inaccurate temperatures,” Dyson says. “The regulators clearly live in a place that looks nothing like the real world and manufacturers are taking advantage.”