Hoover Historical Center
Hoover Historical Center Grounds
James Spangler Murray
It never fails to amaze me that for just about any mundane thing you can think of, there is a group of people fascinated by it. Once while looking at taking a bus in London, I discovered a website dedicated to that city’s decommissioned buses and their old routes. While looking into something about cash registers, I learned there are people out there who collect antique mechanical ones, restore them, and sell parts on Ebay. Vacuum cleaners, it turns out, has its own dedicated set of collectors and specialists. I’m not among them, but a need to do some research for a new project brought me to the Hoover Historical Center in North Canton (formally New Berlin) where I had what turned out to be a fascinating guided tour.
It didn’t make me want to start collecting antique vacuum cleaners, but it was full of surprises. The house I toured once belonged to the Hoover Company’s first president, William Henry “Boss” Hoover, and the museum is about him and a history of the company he made into a household name around the world. The British, for example, use the verb “hoover” as a stand-in for vacuuming one’s floor.
The Hoover vacuum cleaner was the first portable machine of its type powered by electric. William Hoover had not a thing to do with its invention nor did he found the company that produced it. That credit goes to James Murray Spangler. A part-time inventor who in 1907 worked as a janitor at Zollinger Department Store in New Berlin’s Folwell Building, Spangler found that sweeping up dirt and dust greatly aggravated his asthma, so he decided what he needed was a way to suck this up rather than allowing it to float about in the air. To that end he stuck a broom stick into a soap box, added a sewing machine motor, then set it up to suck dirt and dust into a bag—well, really a pillow case. It worked and helped reduce his asthma. Realizing he had something that might make him a lot of money, he patented his invention 1907 and founded the Electric Suction Sweeper Company.
At this time William Hoover, an ordained minister born on August 18, 1849, was running a business in New Berlin making leather straps and horse collars. By the time Spangler invented the portable vacuum cleaner, Hoover had expanded his business into producing leather parts for automobiles. He realized that he needed new ventures because the car was going to replace horses and thus reduce the need for exceptional amounts of leather.
A Hoover employee created
this unique vacuum cleaner.