Turning on the Model O, Hoover's first vacuum cleaner
By Andy Netzel
I am tempted to find a light socket, just like early innovators did over a century ago. Plug it in where the light bulbs go, as wall sockets weren't in most homes. Heck -- even a light socket would've been hard to find; electricity wasn't in most homes when Hoover engineers built the first electric suction sweeper.
We don't want to risk it, though. The engineer with us fires it up slowly, plugging it into a massive machine that lets you increase the voltage slowly.
The last thing we want to do is break the first vacuum cleaner Hoover ever made.
Side by SideMo Irfan, director of Industrial Design at Hoover, examines the Model O, then the Air Cordless. The Cordless -- built on a design platform that came from Mo's head -- is a full-sized cordless upright that can clean your whole home -- a first for Hoover. The Model O was also a first: The first vacuum cleaner of its kind when it was designed.
"It's remarkable," he says, touching one machine, then the other. "Many of the Hoover design principles are here in this machine, too. It's almost like it was on purpose."
Of course it wasn't. This is the first time Mo has seen the Model O in person. Reading a book on the history of vacuum cleaners is the closest he'd otherwise come.
The Model O was the first vacuum ever produced by Hoover. At the time, in 1908, our company was a tannery. We were innovating then, too. The Hoover Company produced harnesses that enabled horses to pull carts with their chests. Other designs at the time simply went over the head, and horses tired quickly as the carts they pulled choked them.
The vacuum cleaner was a side project, started by a janitor who worked at the Hoover Company and was looking for a better way to clean.
At first glance, it looks so primitive. It's a pillowcase attached to a broom handle, with a
But there's so much beauty. Each one was pinstriped by hand. The curves are both functional and streamlined. "New Berlin, Ohio" is stenciled with pride on the front, the former name of North Canton before World War II politics prompted the name change. It's truly art.
Mo looks the vacuum up and down. Based on the serial number, the one we have with us is the fourth physical unit that came off the line. Built, pinstriped and first used in 1908, when the machine felt like magic. He points to the shape of the head, the same shape echoed by Hoover's first cordless bagless upright vacuum. He runs his finger along the nozzle arch, which is nearly identical in angle to the nozzle on the Air Cordless.
Dan Miller, Hoover's head of testing, smiles. You know, this was the height of convenience, he says. Low maintenance. You just need to oil it after every use. And while this is a lot heavier than vacuums today, this was lightweight for a machine this size then.
Vacuum ConnoisseursYou might be surprised at how many true vacuum aficionados I encounter in my line of work. They run personal museums from their basements. They have hundreds of vacuums in their personal collection.
I'm not there yet.
I have two vacuums in my home -- a workhorse upright and a stick vac.
Still, after spending so much time with our modern cleaners, I can't help but have reverence for the machine that started the company.
Turning the Model O OnWe turn it on slowly, Dan's hand twisting the nob that provides electricity to the machine. At any moment, he can spin it back to zero if the vacuum sounds like something is going awry.
One hundred and six years after it was created, the Model O hums to life without hesitation.
I expect a roar. Instead, it's a soothing sound.
As vacuum cleaners got more powerful and smaller, the sound produced has gotten pushed to a different pitch. The Model O may not clean like modern-day vacuums, but I could listen to it all day long.
Inspiration for InnovationI can only imagine the feeling the Spanglers and Hoovers had 100+ years ago when they took home the first models of the "electric suction sweeper" to try in their homes.
It was an invention that changed the way you clean.
Over the past year, a sprawling team of Hoover employees has worked tirelessly to launch the Hoover Air Cordless.
I got to take home one of the first cordless upright vacuums produced. I was asked to use it. A lot. Reflect on how that machine is different than a regular, plugged-in vacuum.
I didn't expect much when I brought it home. I figured it would be more convenient, but just another iteration of a vacuum cleaner that I already owned.
Instead, it changed the way I clean.
I intended to clean one room -- then I'd clean all the rooms on that floor. I was unimpeded. The cord, which I never would have said held me back, wasn't there to suggest I stop the task.
We came up with the phrase "Rethink Cleaning" to describe that moment.
It's more than just a marketing line. It's an affirmation. It's a promise. And, really, it's a challenge to each of us who work on creating new machines going forward.