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Vacuum Cleaners

Vacuum Cleaners


NAICS: 33-5212 Household Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturing, 33-3319 Other Commercial and Service Industry Machinery Manufacturing

SIC: 3635 Household Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturing, 3639 Household Appliances, not elsewhere classified

NAICS-Based Product Codes: 33-52121101, 33-52121103, 33-52121105, 33-52121107, 33-52121111, and 33-52121113


Vacuum cleaners are machines that are characterized by their ability to remove particles or liquids from surfaces such as floors and furniture. They are especially useful for cleaning carpets and upholstery as it is difficult to effectively remove particles from such surfaces with tools traditionally sufficient for use on bare flooring, such as a broom, mop, or brush. Vacuum cleaners are produced for both residential and commercial use and their manufacture in the United States is categorized as a subsector of the household appliances industry as well as a subsector of the industry that manufactures machinery for service industries.

As its name suggests, a vacuum cleaner consists of several components that work together to form a partial vacuum. A fan that is attached to a motor is placed inside an enclosed system, which is the vacuum cleaner case. Two openings are built into the vacuum cleaner case, one at the head of the machine to allow air to flow into the machine and the other at the back to allow air to exit the machine. When the motor is activated, the fan turns, blowing air forward into the vacuum cleaner case. As it does so, the air pressure level inside the vacuum cleaner drops below the air pressure level outside the machine, thus creating a partial vacuum inside the casing. The air outside the machine rushes to fill that partial vacuum, which results in the suction that is the defining mechanism of a vacuum cleaner.

Suction alone is not enough, however. A vacuum cleaner that sucks up dust and debris from carpets only to spew it back out would be of little help. To this end, a filter bag is another essential component of a vacuum cleaner. Made of a porous woven material, a vacuum cleaner bag is positioned in the machine so that the airflow is directed through it and debris is filtered out and captured before the air exits the machine. Since the presence of the bag creates resistance to the flow of air through the machine, the bag potentially reduces the strength of the machine's suction mechanism. One of the key elements in the development of an effective vacuum cleaner is the balancing of the strength of the filter bag with the strength of the machine's suction. An airy vacuum bag may allow for great suction but will mean that the machine leaves behind a cloud of dust; a tightly woven filter may be able to capture the tiniest of dust particles, but will be of no use if the machine cannot generate enough suction to lift the dust from the carpet in the first place.


Invention of the vacuum cleaner took place in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early years of the twentieth century, and is notable for the efforts of numerous inventors in the United States, Eng-land, and Europe, many of whom simultaneously set upon similar solutions.

In the United States, two of the earliest patents for manual carpet cleaners that employed vacuum principles were received by inventors Daniel Hess in 1860 and Ives W. McGaffey in 1869. Both men were from Illinois, Hess from West Union and McGaffey from Chicago. Hess's invention was operated by an elaborate bellows mechanism and contained two water chambers to capture dust and dirt. It is believed that Hess's machine never reached production. McGaffey's "Whirlwind," however, was manufactured and sold by the American Carpet Cleaning Company in Chicago, Illinois. It was primarily made of wood and had a suction fan that was run with a hand-crank.

Invention of the first machine to use a power source to create a vacuum is generally credited to British engineer Hubert Cecil Booth. Booth, who had designed engines for the Royal Navy, was inspired to experiment with methods for removing dust from carpets after he attended a demonstration of a carpet cleaning machine that relied on the force of air blown onto a carpet to reflect debris up from the carpet's surface and into a large box. Having the idea to somehow reverse the flow of air so that debris would be sucked up from the carpet, Booth conducted an impromptu experiment and placed his mouth against the back of a plush restaurant seat and proceeded to suck in his breath. Though potentially deadly, his experiment proved successful. The seal of his mouth on the seatback and the force of his own inhalation created the suction of a vacuum cleaner "with the result that I almost choked," as he later explained in a paper he delivered to the Newcomen Society in the early 1930s.

Booth's invention was a cumbersome machine that was carried on a horse-drawn cart and parked outside buildings to be cleaned. It was powered at first by an oil engine and later by an electric motor. Long hoses attached to the power unit were fed through windows. The "Puffing Billy," as the machine was called, was patented in 1901 and soon caused quite the sensation. In 1902 it was used to clean the carpet under the throne in Westminster Abbey, England, in preparation for the coronation of King Edward VII. Following were demonstrations at Buckingham Palace for the new king as well as demonstrations for royalty in France and Germany.

Simultaneous to Booth's success with the Puffing Billy, was the invention of a motorized vacuum cleaner in the United States by John Thurman of St. Louis, Missouri. Patented in 1899 Thurman's machine was gasoline-powered, and like Booth's, was drawn by horse from house to house to provide vacuuming services. David T. Kenney, an inventor based in New Jersey and New York, received nine vacuum cleaner patents between 1903 and 1913, and hit upon a system for cleaning similar to both Booth's and Thurman's. Kenney's heavy electrically-powered machine was temporarily installed in the basement of buildings and connected to rooms of the house by a network of pipes. In many ways, it was the precursor to modern day central vacuuming systems.

Numerous patents during the early years of vacuum cleaners were for manually operated models. Suction for these machines was commonly produced through the use either of bellows or a pump, and operation most often required two people, one person to create the machine's power and one person to actually do the cleaning. One innovative effort to eliminate the need for two operators was a model patented in France in 1893 that had the operator wearing the bellows like springy platform shoes so that the machine would be powered as they walked. Despite the initial flourish of activity in development of these models, manually operated machines had faded from the market by the late 1910s.

The first portable, electrically-powered vacuum cleaner to be patented in the United States was invented in San Francisco in 1905. Weighing 92 pounds and housing a fan that measured eighteen inches in diameter, it did not sell well. Two years later, Murray Spangler, an inventor who worked nights as a janitor in Canton, Ohio, found that cleaning rugs with a broom was aggravating his asthma. In an effort to protect his health on the job, he set about devising a way to both clean the carpets in the department store where he worked and also to capture the dust that he stirred up while cleaning. To do so, he attached an old fan motor to a soapbox, stapled a broom handle to the box, and applied a pillowcase to his contraption to serve as a filter bag. His machine worked well enough that he formed a company, the Electric Suction Sweeper Company, and began making and selling the device. An enthusiastic customer named Susan Hoover talked up her purchase to her husband, W.H. Hoover, a businessman and owner of a leather goods manufacturing shop. Hoover recognized the potential of Spangler's invention and in 1908 he purchased Spangler's patent, retained the inventor as a partner, and began overseeing the manufacture of the Hoover Company's first vacuum cleaner, the Model O.

Types of Vacuum Cleaners

Throughout the vacuum cleaner's first century, most portable models were variations on the theme of either the upright vacuum or the canister vacuum. The main difference between the upright and the canister is that the fan, motor, and filter bag in an upright are positioned directly above the machine's suction intake, whereas in a canister model, these components are housed in a case, often cylindrical in shape and mounted on wheels, that are connected to the suction intake by a long hose. In a traditional upright, the incom-ing dirty air flows through the machine's fan and motor before reaching the filter bag. For this reason, uprights are often referred to as dirty-air design or direct-air design vacuums. Conversely, canister models are referred to as clean air design machines because their filtering systems are located in front of the fan and motor and incoming air is cleaned by the time it reaches these components.

The stick vacuum, a slimmer and lighter version of the traditional upright, and the hand-held vacuum, a vacuum maneuverable by hand and often battery-operated, are models ideal for either touch-ups or light cleaning, and are often marketed for use in apartments or as a second vacuum. Stick vacuums are also sold as mop vacs, vacuums with interchangeable heads so that they can either wipe like a mop or use suction like a traditional vacuum.

Wet/dry vacuums are canister-type vacuums that employ a water filtration system and can be used to vacuum liquids as well as dry particles. The body of a wet/dry vacuum is shaped like a large, wide water bottle with a hose attached to its side. The fan and motor are located at the exhaust port that is located at what would be the mouth of the bottle. For use, the machine is filled about two-thirds full with water. As incoming air moves up the hose, it enters a dry area above the water. Because this area is much wider than the narrow path of the hose, the flow of air slows dramatically as it enters the body of the machine and particles such as water and debris, too heavy to be held by the slower air, fall into the water below. Cleaning the filter for these machines is merely a matter of dumping out the dirty water and replacing it with clean water. One type of wet/dry vacuum is a carpet cleaner, which is able to dispense a cleaning liquid, massage a carpet, and then suck up both fluid and dirt at once.

The choice of a good vacuum cleaner depends both on its design and the purpose for which it is being used. An upright vacuum cleaner with a beater bar that loosens embedded dirt at the machine's intake opening is good for carpeted surfaces. A wide-area vacuum, a commercial upright model that can cover up to 30 inches at a time, is even better for large carpeted spaces. However, neither of these models would be well suited to use on hard flooring such as wood or tile. Canister vacuums, able to accommodate a variety of attachments, are considered to be more versatile and better for use on bare surfaces. A commercial version of the traditional canister is designed so that the operator can wear the cleaner on his or her back or hip. The benefit of these models is their portability. They do not compete well with a wet/dry vacuum for the removal of heavy dirt or stains, nor are useful as a wet/dry cleaner that can be worn as a backpack.

Central vacuum systems allow operators to attach a vacuum cleaner hose to an inlet in the wall of a structure, flip a switch, and vacuum without having to pull or push a machine from room to room. The power unit for such a system is placed in an out-of-the-way location such as a basement or a utility room. Pipes are threaded through the walls of the structure and are used to draw dust and debris to the power unit, which also contains a receptacle or filter.

Product Quality

Methods for measuring the effectiveness of a vacuum cleaner vary. Some manufacturers cite amperage as a way of promoting the power of their products. Amperage, however, is the amount of electrical current that the machine consumes. It does not address the vacuum's ability to convert that energy into an effective mechanical process. Instead, measurement of the success of that process is best ascertained through evaluation of the cleaner's airflow, lift, and suction.

Airflow refers to the volume of air that moves through the vacuum. It is measured in cubic feet per minute and is significant because it affects the amount of debris that can be carried into the machine. Lift refers to the airflow's ability to lift dirt from surfaces and it is measured in "inches of lift" to represent the amount of water vacuum cleaners are able to draw up a tube during product testing. The higher the numbers for a vacuum's airflow and lift, the greater the machine's potential for providing strong suction.

Other factors affecting the power of a vacuum's suction are the amount of airflow resistance created by the filter bag, any leakage of air that may occur in the vacuum's housing, and the nature of the machine's air intake mechanism. The wider the intake mechanism, the weaker the suction; the narrower the mechanism, the better the suction.

The heart of a vacuum cleaner is its fan motor, also referred to as a suction motor because it is the mechanism that creates the machine's suction. Performance of the suction motor is affected by the load to the motor. The load to the motor is the amount of energy required for the motor to turn the fan. When the flow of incoming air against the fan is decreased, the motor encounters less resistance to turn the fan. It both draws less energy and is also able to work faster. Therefore, the less the airflow, the more powerful the motor. While a high volume of airflow is desirable, too great a volume of air moving through the vacuum will have a negative effect on the power of the motor.

Vacuums, especially commercial vacuums, may contain one or more motors. Motors may be used to run fans that help to circulate the air further into the vacuum and to keep the suction motor from overheating. While in upright models the beater bar is often powered by a belt attached to it from the motor, many models have a separate motor that runs the beater bar. In addition, some models employ a motor to run a headlight meant to help operators see the carpet more clearly as they clean.

Industry Standards

Two organizations in the United States publish industry standards and product ratings for the vacuum cleaner industry. They are the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI), a trade association, and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International, a non-profit organization that develops standards for industries and organizations seeking them.

Under the CRI Seal of Approval and Green Label programs, both commercial and residential vacuum cleaners are tested for their ability to remove soil and contain dust without damaging carpet texture in the process. The association's testing procedures are developed and overseen by members of the carpet and vacuum cleaner manufacturing industries as well as members of the scientific community. Products approved by CRI are marked with a certification seal.

At ASTM International, committees and subcommittees are assigned to specific industries to develop standards and test products. Vacuum cleaner standards are overseen by members of the industry as well as representatives from academia, government, and public interest groups. Some of the many standards formed address such aspects as the turbine nozzles for central vacuum cleaners, hose durability, motor life, and criteria for removal of embedded dirt. The standards that ASTM publishes and the research that it performs on products act as a guide to vacuum cleaner manufacturers in product development and enhancement.


The household appliance industry took off in the United States following the close of World War II. Buoyed by a strong economy and a society increasingly inclined toward convenience, the household vacuum cleaner industry benefited from consumers' interest in electric appliances and experienced solid growth during the 1960s and 1970s. Between 1982 and 1990, the market expanded at an even faster rate. Sales of household vacuums grew at an average rate of 10 percent per year, increasing from $775 million in 1982 to $1.87 billion in 1990. By the early 1990s sales of household appliances as a whole had reached $3.2 billion.

In the early 1990s an economic recession drove down industry revenues for household vacuum cleaners to below $1.7 billion. Most service machinery manufacturers remained immune to the recession, however, and sales of commercial and industrial vacuums were strong during this period, seeing shipment values jump 66.9 percent from $319.5 million in 1992 to $533.2 million in 1997.

By the late 1990s, the market for household vacuum cleaners had begun to recover. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the value of industry shipments rose 44 percent from $1.81 billion in 1992 to $3.02 billion in 2000. In 2004 retail sales of vacuum cleaners were valued at $3.51 billion, reflecting a 4.4 percent increase from 2003 sales of $3.36 billion.

Throughout the early years of the twenty-first century sales of upright vacuums dominated the market, accounting for a 50.42 percent share, according to Market Share Reporter 2007. Next on the heals of upright vacuums and yet still at a significant distance, were handheld vacuums at 14.96 percent of the market and stick vacuums at 10.81 percent.

In its 2005 annual report on the U.S. appliance industry, Appliance magazine listed unit shipments for five types of vacuums: upright, stick, canister, handheld, and shampooers/steamcleaners. Upright vacuums in 2005 were valued at $20.4 million, up 30 percent from $14.3 million in 2001. Stick vacuums were next in total value of shipments and saw the greatest increase over period of all vacuuming products for that year, rising 33 percent from $3.3 million in 2001 to $5.1 million in 2005. Canister vacuums shipments were flat between 2001 and 2005, while handhelds decreased from $5.8 million in 2001 to $5.5 million in 2005, and shampooers/steam cleaners saw a drop from $3.3 million in 2001 to $2.7 million in 2005.

U.S. imports of household appliances began a decade of steady increases in 1997, rising as a percentage of consumption from 25.4 percent in 1997 to 41.7 percent in 2005. Imports increased another 19.8 percent in the first six months of 2006, and were expected to continue rising through the first decade of the twenty-first century. Imports of vacuum cleaners were particularly strong during this period, reflecting the tendency for manufacturers to outsource production to foreign countries. The number of foreign companies participating in appliance manufacturing also grew.

Import pressure led to falling prices for most appliances, vacuum cleaners among them, from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. While in most industry categories, rising commodity prices spurred price increases beginning in 2004, vacuum cleaner prices continued to decline, dropping a total of 15.3 index points from 1997 to 2005 according to statistics from the U.S. International Trade Administration.


Market Share Reporter 2007 lists leading vacuum cleaner manufacturers for 2004. Matsushita Electric Industrial Company Ltd., commonly known in North America as Panasonic, tops the list. At 33 percent of the market, Panasonic held a clear lead over Electrolux and Euro-Pro, both at 9 percent of the market, Maytag and Royal Appliance Manufacturing at 7 percent, and Bissell at 6 percent. Panasonic leads due to its Kenmore brand of vacuum cleaners, produced under contract for Sears, Roebuck and Company.

Maytag produces Hoover brand vacuums, a brand that it acquired in 1989 when it purchased the Chicago Pacific Corporation. The Swedish company AB Electrolux includes the Eureka brand, which it acquired in 1974. Euro-Pro Corporation owns the Fantom brand, which it purchased from the failing Canadian company, Fantom Technologies Inc., in 2002. Royal Appliance Manufacturing is the producer of the highly successful Dirt Devil brand.

Leading vacuum cleaner manufacturer Royal Appliance and brand Hoover changed hands in the first decade of the twenty-first century. In 2003 Hong Kong based Techtronic Industries Co., acquired Royal Appliance Manufacturing. By 2007 venerable brand and long-time Royal Appliance competitor, Hoover, landed under the purview of Techtronic Industries, having been acquired first by Whirlpool Corp. in March 2006 as part of that company's purchase of Maytag, and having then been sold a year later by Whirlpool to Techtronic Industries.

Profiled are Techtronic, with its subsidiaries Royal Appliance Manufacturing Company and The Hoover Company, The Eureka Company, and Bissell, Inc.

Techtronic Industries Company Ltd.

Founded in 1985 by Horst Pudwiller, Techtronic Industries began as an original equipment manufacturer, providing power hand tools and floor care products for such brands as Craftsman, RIDGID (Home Depot), Bissell, and Dirt Devil. In 1999 the company embarked on a plan to become a manufacturer of its own brand name products. Later that year it acquired Vax, the leading vacuum cleaner manufacturer in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and India. Its purchase of power tool company Ryobi US the following year gained it international brand recognition as a power tool brand. Techtronics sales topped $2.1 billion in 2004 and it had a workforce of 21,000 employees.

Horst Pudwiller was a German native and former Volkswagen executive who teamed up with a Hong Kong businessman named Roy Chung to produce rechargeable battery packs for hand tools and appliances. Techtronic's first contract was with Sears in 1986. A contract for the production of cordless and handheld vacuum cleaners was also signed that year with Bissell.

Techtronic Industries benefited from a trend in home renovations and do-it-yourself construction that began in the late 1980s in the United States. The company's sales soared beyond expectation and in 1990 Techtronic went public. Though the company spent the decade making acquisitions and diversifying its operations, its power tool and vacuum cleaner businesses remained its core.

When Techtronic Industries purchased Royal Appliance Manufacturing for $105.5 million in 2002 and the Hoover brand for $107 million from Whirlpool in 2007, its already strong market presence in the vacuum cleaner manufacturing industry increased. Concurrent with its acquisition of Hoover, the company established U.S.-based TTI Floor Care North America.

Royal Appliance Manufacturing Company

Techtronic Industries subsidiary Royal began in 1905 as the P.A. Geier Company. The company's founder, Philip Geier, formed the company in his garage where he initially constructed vacuum cleaners by hand. The company expanded its line to include small electrical appliances such as mixers and hair dryers. Its introduction of the Princess and the Royal Prince in 1937 marked the introduction, according to the company, of the industry's first handheld vacuum. In the late 1980s the company experienced a revival after several decades of poor sales when it introduced the Dirt Devil line of handheld vacuums. Its success in the handheld market rocketed it to the number three position in the industry. Techtronic Industries acquired it in 2003.

The Hoover Company

Techtronic Industries subsidiary, Hoover, remained family-owned until it went public in the early 1940s. The holding company, Chicago Pacific Corp., purchased Hoover in 1985. In 1989 Maytag purchased the Chicago Pacific Corp. with acquisition of its Hoover subsidiary in mind. Hoover UK was split off from the Hoover Company in the United States in 1993, when Maytag sold the British division to the Italian manufacturer Candy. Hoover vacuums dominated the market in North America and the United Kingdom throughout the early-to-mid twentieth century. Techtronic Industries acquired it in 2007.

The Eureka Company

AB Electrolux of Stockholm, Sweden, founded in 1919 and also a top manufacturer of household appliances internationally. Like Hoover and Royal Appliance Manufacturing, Eureka dates back to the very beginnings of the electric vacuum cleaner in the United States. It was founded in 1909 in Detroit, Michigan, by a real estate auctioneer and inventor named Fred Wardell, who had acquired several patents for his vacuum cleaner designs. By 1919 Eureka was manufacturing 2000 vacuum cleaners per day.

In the late 1940s Eureka merged with the Williams Oil-O-Matic Heating Corporation, a manufacturer of oil burners and became the Eureka-Williams Company. The purpose of the merger was to diversify Eureka's presence in an appliance market that was expected to expand, however, the merger was never successful. In 1953 the Henney Motor Company purchased Eureka-Williams and by the end of the decade, Eureka had once again changed hands, becoming a subsidiary of National Union Electric Corporation.

Eureka-Williams' name was changed back to Eureka when AB Electrolux, a global leader in household appliances, acquired National Union in 1974. The Swedish company had been unable to use its name in the United States since selling it's American Electrolux Co. subsidiary to Consolidated Foods Company in 1968. Electrolux saw the purchase of National Union and Eureka as a way to re-enter the lucrative U.S. appliance market.

Bissell Inc.

Incorporated by Melville and Anna Bissell in 1883, Bissell was founded on the success of its carpet sweeper model. Carpet sweepers had been in the market in the United States since the late 1850s, and the Bissells regularly used one to clean the carpet in their crockery shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Not satisfied with the job that their carpet sweeper was doing, Melville Bissell designed an improved model. Like earlier models, Bissell's relied on floor wheels to drive a brush that turned over the carpet. However, Bissell developed the machine further so that the bristles of the brush bent as they turned over the carpet, thus flicking debris up from the floor and into a compartment as the wheels turned. Interest in Bissell's innovation from shop customers led the couple to begin manufacturing and selling Melville's new carpet sweeper.

Soon after incorporating their company, the Bissells bought out two chief competitors, the Michigan Carpet Sweeping Company and the Grand Rapids Carpet Sweeper Company. By 1889 the Bissell carpet sweeper was so well established that the brand faced little competition.

When Melville Bissell died suddenly of pneumonia in 1889, Anna took over from her husband, becoming one of the first female executives in the United States. She remained head of the company until Melville Bissell Jr. took over from her in the late 1920s.

Increasingly widespread use of electricity in U.S. homes during the 1920s to 1940s led to a rise in the use and affordability of electric vacuum cleaners and challenged the carpet sweeper's place in the market. Although the carpet sweeper remained Bissell's core product, the company began producing electric vacuum cleaners during this period. Throughout the following decades the company produced wet/dry and shampooing vacuum cleaners as well as stick models. In 1997 it introduced its first upright model and continued to expand its line of deep cleaning products, all the while continuing to produce its carpet sweepers. Bissell employed 2,500 employees in the early years of the first decade of the twenty-first century and had annual sales in the range of $500 million.

Other Companies

Other major players in the vacuum cleaner industry include: The Oreck Corporation, based in New Orleans, Louisiana, was founded by Fred Oreck in 1963 to produce upright vacuums for the hotel industry. The Kirby Company of Cleveland, Ohio, was founded in 1914 and is a subsidiary of the Scott Fetzer Company. Miele & Cie. KG of Gütersloh, Germany, was founded in 1899 and is a global leader in the household appliance industry. Dyson, the U.K.-based company, is privately owned by inventor James Dyson.


Early vacuum cleaner models were made primarily of natural materials such as wood, leather, and rubber. By the middle of the twentieth century they were made almost entirely of metal, with stamped steel cases, aluminum bases, and steel, aluminum or bakelite motor hoods. The discovery of Lexan polycarbonate resin in 1953 by Dan Fox at General Electric, ushered in the use of plastics in the vacuum cleaner industry. By 1975 most companies had switched to using either Lexan or a similar high-impact plastic for their upright bases. Use of plastic for canister models followed the introduction of Eureka's highly successful Mighty Mite compact canister series of vacuums in 1985.

While a few vacuum cleaners, such as the Kirby and the TriStar, were still being constructed out of metal in the early 2000s, the external structures of most machines were plastic. In addition to Lexan, some common plastics were Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) plastics, polystyrene, polycarbonate, and Bakelite, which was invented in 1909 by the chemist Leo H. Bakeland and was the first completely synthetic plastic resin created.

Polyvinyl chloride, typically referred to as vinyl or PVC, was used to make electrical cord jackets and vacuum hoses, and nylon was used to produce bristles for vacuum cleaner attachments. Since plastics are created primarily from petroleum derivatives, high crude oil prices in the middle and later years of the first decade of the twenty-first century led to many plastics suppliers raising their prices.

In 2002 the household vacuum cleaner manufacturing industry spent a total of $1.06 billion on materials. Although data are not available for all categories of material used by the industry between the economic census years of 1997 and 2002, U.S. Census Bureau statistics show significant increases in spending in three areas: electric motors and generators, up from $54 million in 1997 to $77.5 million in 2002; plastic products, up from $52.2 million in 1997 to $133 million in 2002; and plastics resins, up from $118 million in 1997 to $134 million in 2002.

Prices for metals such as copper, aluminum, and steel, all of which are used for the manufacture of vacuum cleaner motors and parts, began increasing in 1999. In 2004 prices for hot rolled steel reached an all-time high of $760 per ton. While steel prices had declined to $630 per ton in 2006, prices for copper and aluminum peaked that year, copper selling at $3.42 per pound compared to $1.70 in 2005, and aluminum at $1.14 compared to $.86 in 2005. The increase was due in large part to a steady rise in global demand for commodities spearheaded by demand in India and China, both countries having experienced rapid economic growth from the late-1990s onward. Other factors included the high price of crude oil, war in the Middle East, and the economic blows to the U.S. economy caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

Some of the companies supplying plastics to the vacuum cleaner industry are the Eastman Chemical Company of Kingsport, Tennessee, NOVA Chemical Corporation of Moon Township, Pennsylvania, Bulk Molding Compounds Inc. of West Chicago, Illinois, and Basell Advanced Polyolefins of Lansing, Michigan. A major supplier of motors to the industry is AMETEK of Paoli, Pennsylvania.


The successful launch of two of the earliest household vacuum cleaner companies in the United States, Eureka and Hoover, was the result of savvy distribution strategies. W.H. Hoover, for example, offered a ten day free trial of the Hoover Model O following his purchase of William Spangler's patent in 1908. Instead of shipping the vacuums directly to customers, he shipped them to stores he had chosen throughout the country and offered store owners commissions for each sale. This system led to the development of a nationwide network of vacuum cleaner dealers.

The Eureka Company founder Fred Wardell employed salesmen to sell its vacuums door-to-door across the country. This method of direct selling proved expensive to operate due to the cost of commissions for salesmen and the thousands of units that were tied up as demonstration models. However, it also proved highly profitable. To satisfy customer demand for Eureka vacuums, the company employed as many as 3,000 salesmen.

Retail outlets such as department stores or specialized appliance stores were primary distributors of vacuum cleaners in the latter part of the twentieth century. Though door-to-door salesmen still represented a part of the distribution market at the turn of the century, their share had dwindled considerably and rested at approximately 3 percent.

By the early 2000s mass merchants and wholesale clubs such as Best Buy, Costco, Lowes, Target and Wal-Mart dominated the retail market. A list from HFN magazine of the top ten retailers in the United States in 2005 showed Wal-Mart leading with sales of $992.8, up 9.4 percent from 2004. Sales of $590.4 for Sears, once a mainstay in the appliance retail industry and the only department store to make it into the top ten list of retailers, was second in sales numbers but recorded a drop of 3.1 percent from 2004 sales.

The greatest gains over 2004 were recorded by Best Buy at 25.3 percent, followed by Lowe's at 18.7 percent and Kohl's at 14 percent. Figure 222 illustrates the extent to which mass merchants have become the primary retail outlets through which most vacuum cleaners are purchased.

In 2003 carpets and rugs controlled 68 percent of the flooring product market, down four points from 72 percent in 1997. Forecasts are for carpet to decline to 62 percent in 2009 due to the growth of other flooring choices like ceramic tile, laminate, vinyl, and wood. Wood flooring in particular has seen gains between 1997 and 2004 when it doubled its flooring market share primarily at the expense of carpet. While continued erosion in carpet as a percentage of flooring by type was expected through the first decade of the 2000s researchers predict that carpet will fail to fall below 60 percent, reassuring news for the makers of vacuum cleaners.


Portable electric vacuums remained primarily a luxury item for several decades following their introduction early in the twentieth century. Following the close of World War II and into the 1950s and 1960s, however, with the economy growing and home ownership increasing, they soon became a commonplace household appliance. During this era, when the responsibility for housekeeping and the raising of children fell mainly to women, key users and purchasers of household vacuum cleaners were women. Toward the close of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s, as women increasingly began to work outside the home, vacuuming ceased being a gender-specific activity.

Among residential consumers of vacuum cleaners, individuals whose health relies on the reduction of dust in their homes, such as those with allergies or asthma, are particularly likely to purchase a vacuum cleaner at regular intervals.

Key users in the commercial and industrial vacuum cleaner market include service industry establishments such as hotels, restaurants, health care facilities, educational institutions, conference facilities, and entertainment venues. Vacuums may also be used in manufacturing facilities to clear away debris on factory or shop floors.


Vacuum cleaners were still the best mechanism available for cleaning carpeted areas and upholstery at the turn of the twenty-first century. While traditional floor care products such as mops, brooms, and polishers/buffers, posed the greatest threat to vacuums for use on bare floors, vacuum manufacturers were producing models that could double as mops and even polishers, as well as vacuum cleaners that could shampoo and steam clean carpets.

Sales of household vacuum cleaners are tied closely with economic conditions. Because the industry enjoys such high levels of market saturation, the majority of people purchasing a vacuum cleaner are either choosing to replace a vacuum cleaner they already have or are buying an additional model. During periods of economic recession, consumers will be more likely to postpone such purchases. Key economic indicators for the vacuum cleaner industry include housing starts, interest rates, and consumer confidence.

Demographics and new home ownership may also play a role in consumer purchases. For instance, a rise in the number of young adults purchasing their first homes or moving into their first apartments will tend to lead to an increase in first-time vacuum cleaner purchases.

Though vacuum cleaners are effective for cleaning bare floors, there are alternatives for cleaning such floors. When it comes to carpets, vacuum cleaners are by far the most appropriate device for the job. Therefore, trends in the selection of floor coverings in a new or remodeled home are of particular interest to vacuum cleaner manufacturers. Figure 223 illustrates the market growth for floor coverings in new one-family homes between 1994 and 2004 in the United States. Data represent the amount of floor area covered in median square footage.


Due to high saturation levels in the vacuum cleaner market, manufacturers have traditionally relied on product enhancements and new features to appeal to customers. Early on, such developments included the beater bar and nozzle attachments. Handheld vacuums, mop vacs, deep cleaners, and vacuum cleaners that can polish hard wood floors are all examples of the industry's effort to satisfy consumer demand for increasingly effective and versatile products.

One of the earliest innovations in vacuum cleaners was Hoover's development of the Constellation, a canister vacuum that was designed so that it would float above the floor instead of rolling on wheels like traditional canister models. Introduced in the early 1950s, the vacuum cleaner's exhaust port is located at its base so that the force of air expressed from the machine against the floor keeps the vacuum afloat, thus relieving operators of the need to pull a heavy vacuum behind them as they clean. Early models of the hovering vacuum proved to be heavy, loud, and unable to float on carpeted surfaces. An enhanced model released at the end of the decade included airfoil improvements, was quieter, and functioned on carpets as well as bare floors. Hoover continues to sell updated versions of the Constellation.

Two other major developments in vacuum cleaner design centered on the machines' filtering mechanism. First created in 1940 to be used in nuclear research labs to prevent the spread of radioactive elements, HEPA filters are a type of air filter that can stop at least 99.97 of airborne particles from passing through it. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particle Arresting filter. Commercial production of HEPA filters began in the 1950s, and the filter have since found widespread use as vacuum cleaner filters.

Research and development resulted in bagless vacuum cleaners and robotic vacuum cleaners. In the early 1980s, British inventor James Dyson developed a bagless vacuum cleaner. In his cyclone vacuums, incoming airflow is directed into one or more cylinders in which it is spun at high speeds. Dirt particles are drawn out of the air as a result of the centrifugal force occurring in the cylinders. Dyson's first Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaner, the G-Force, arrived on the market in Japan in 1986. Canadian company, Fantom Technologies Inc., was later responsible for bringing the bagless model to North America.

The first robotic vacuum was introduced in 2002 by iRobot Corp. of Burlington, Massachusetts. The Roomba is a disc-shaped vacuum cleaner that is fully automatic. Its internal navigation system and sensors help direct it to where it needs to go. Several Roomba models have improved on the original product, which was prone to bumping into or getting lost under furniture if left fully to its own devices. As a way to encourage innovation among its customers, iRobot introduced software in 2006 that allows users to re-program their vacuum cleaners. The company also donated Roombas to university robotics labs as teaching aids. In 2004 Electrolux introduced the Trilobite, a robotic vacuum that had first been presented to the public in 1997.


Styling and technology were key watchwords in vacuum cleaner design at the turn of the twenty-first century. So unlike their gauky predecessors from the early nineteenth-century, these machines were looking less and less mechanical and more and more like the sleek equipment of a space traveler.

Bagless technology had become commonplace and many models on the market at the end of the first decade of the 2000s consisted of translucent bodies through which the operator can see the amount of dirt being collected by the machine. Also increasingly commonplace were models without drive belts. The use of sensors to measure the amount of dirt left on the carpet or to warn operators that filters are becoming clogged were beginning to find their way into lower priced vacuum models, and robotic vacuums were being produced by several manufacturers, adding their compact flying-saucer look to the mix.

In the early 2000s, vacuum cleaners were lighter, more colorful, and more easily maneuverable than ever. Dyson's models came in yellow, purple, and red, Hoover's in emerald and orange, and Eureka favored light blues for its line of vacuums. In 2006 Royal Appliance introduced a line of cordless, handheld models that were meant to be perceived as both a vacuum and a work of art that the owner would not mind leaving out on a countertop. Developed in collaboration with New York designer Karim Rashid, the Dirt Devil KONE looked, as its name suggests, like a cone and was produced in a variety of colors.


Responding to an increased awareness among its consumers of ergonomic and environmental issues, vacuum cleaner manufacturers toward the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century were producing machines that were ever lighter, more easily maneuverable, and promoted the use of HEPA or other high efficiency filtration systems.

Among the vacuum cleaner industry's target markets were environmentally sensitive customers such as those suffering from allergies and asthma as well as the aging Baby Boom generation (those born between 1945 and the early 1960s). Procision Light vacuums from Royal Appliance were promoted as ideal for the older consumer because the machines are light-weight and easy of handle.

Vacuum cleaner models have traditionally been sold in three price categories, low-end, mid-range, and high-end. In 2007 they ranged widely in price from models such as hand vacs and sticks for under $50 to high-end uprights and canisters costing from $600 to over $1,000. A high percentage of all vacuums sold fell into the low-end, retailing for $130 or less. The U.S. introduction of the Dyson bagless models, selling for between $299 and $590, revived the middle and high-end market. Although they cost more than double many rival U.S. brands, the cyclonic vacuums beat out traditional favorite Hoover to become the market-leading upright models of 2004.


Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers,

The Carpet and Rug Institute,

Vacuum Dealers Trade Association,


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Beatty, Gerry. "The Times They Have Changed." HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network. July 2004, 24.

Bernard, Sharyn. "Sweeping Change." HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network. July 2005, 58.

Booth, Hubert Cecil. "The Origin of the Vacuum Cleaner." Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1934–35. Volume 15. Available from 〈〉.

"Household Vacuum Cleaners." Encyclopedia of American Industries, 4th ed. Thomson Gale, Volume 1, 1037-1038.

"Household Vacuum Cleaner Manufacturing: 2002." 2002 Economic Census. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. December 2004.

Lazich, Robert S. Market Share Reporter 2007. Thomson Gale, 2007. Volume 1, 429-430.

Quail, Jennifer. "Housing Market Index Holds Steady." HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network. March 2006, 18.

"Report: Moderate Growth Ahead; Researcher for Carpet One Predicts a 4.3 Percent Spurt by 2009." HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network. 8 August 2005, 32.

Rudnick, Michael. "Mass Merchant Appeal." HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network. July 2006, 12.

"Statistics for Industry Groups and Industries: 2005." Annual Survey of Manufactures: 2005. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census. November 2006.

see also Carpets & Rugs

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