The Story of the Vacuum Cleaner

The British Vacuum Cleaner & Engineering Co. Ltd. Goblin Works. Leatherhead. Surrey. - Written Circa 1960.


The Vacuum Cleaner from which a great Industry was created first saw the light of day in the year 1901, when a Mr. H. Cecil Booth F.C.G.I, M.I.C.E. Consulting Engineer, turned his attention to the creation of a mechanical method of removing dust from carpets and house furnishings by means of air suction.

The idea originated from a visit by Mr. Booth to a theatre in the year 1901 to investigate a new machine which blew the dust from the carpet by means of compressed air. "Now" thought Mr. Booth, "if this system could be reversed, and a filter inserted between the suction apparatus and the outside air, whereby the dust would be retained in a receptacle, the real solution of the hygienic removal of dust would be obtained."

A few days later, Mr. Booth tested his theory by taking a handkerchief cupped around his mouth and bending down sucked in against the back of a plush chair. Investigation showed a ring of dirt on the handkerchief.

From that time Mr. Booth went ahead. A few months later, on August 30th, 1901, the machine from which the present whole world Industry has sprung was patented, and the Vacuum Cleaner Company Ltd., was formed. On the prospectus issued by the Company, the words "Vacuum Cleaner" were inscribed and this is the first record of the phrase being introduced in to the English Language. Soon after, a complete portable machine was produced.

British Vacuum Cleaner and Engineering Co.Ltd Vacuum Horse

The Vacuum Cleaner differed from most modern vacuum cleaners only in that the apparatus mounted on a trolley was left outside the building to be cleaned and suction pipes ran from the machine into the building. The basic principles however were exactly the same. The introduction of the Vacuum Cleaner to the public coincided with an important event: the Coronation of King Edward VII, and in connection with this great event, the Vacuum Cleaner was to prove of considerable service. A consequence of the rehearsals that were taking place daily in the Abbey, was that the thick blue carpet became coated with dust. Sweeping was useless for the dust would settle again. Then someone had the idea of cleaning the carpet by the new 'Vacuum Cleaning method.' Soon afterwards, operators were set to work on the carpet, restoring it again to its pristine freshness.

Mr. H Cecil Booth was still the Chairman of the British Vacuum Cleaner & Engineering Company Ltd. in 1960.

The first Vacuum Cleaner Demonstration aroused considerable interest among titled nobility who crowded the Abbey, and news of the occurrence soon reached the ears of Lord Chamberlain. Shortly afterwards the following letter was received by the Company:-

"I have submitted the subject of the Vacuum Cleaning Company's operations to the King, and I have his Majesty's permission to ask you to give a demonstration of its actual working at Buckingham Palace on Thursday next the 23rd. instant at 12 o'clock, when I hope His Majesty will have an opportunity of witnessing it.

If you could make it convenient to call here tomorrow, Tuesday between 12 and 1 o'clock we could together settle details of the trial."

As recorded in the "Court Journal" October 25th, 1902, the directors "had the honour of giving an exhibition of the Vacuum Cleaning process before their Majesties." The direct result of this was the B.V.C. Vacuum Cleaners were at once installed in the Royal Palaces, the Company being granted His Majesty's Royal Warrant of Appointment. The Palaces of most of the Royal European Courts were similarly equipped.

A tremendous reception was accorded the new invention both in England and Europe, and the Vacuum Cleaning Company, as it was then called, was inundated with enquiries for cleaning private houses, theatres and public buildings. From the original machine mounted on a hand truck, the Company went forward and equipped larger vehicles drawn by horses. The same method was employed for the apparatus: pipes were led from the machine into the building to be cleaned. In this connection there were some difficulties for crowds followed the van through the streets. The authorities claimed it caused an obstruction of the Public Thoroughfare, and until a ruling was given in Mr Booth's favour, the Company were often summoned for obstruction.

Mr Booth's machine became the fashion. Mayfair Society women gave "Vacuum Teas", glass tubes being fitted to the apparatus so that guests might see the dust being sucked through the tubes to the dust receptacle in the van outside.

So, from the original idea began the growth of the invention which was to create a great Industry. With the changing times, new electrical machines were produced and the Company could look back with pride on their progress.


Then came the first World War in 1914, and in common with other industries the Company, now called the British Vacuum Cleaner & Engineering Co. Ltd., was called upon to use its extensive experience and knowledge to help combat the enemy. The Government was not long in realizing the many applications in ammunition manufacture to which the invention could be applied, and its use was extended during the Second World War.

In the years that followed the First World War, an ever increasing quantity of Goblin Vacuum Cleaners were manufactured, and not only in this country but throughout the World the merits of the production were gradually commanding general appreciation.

However, to turn to the Industry as a whole and the wider applications which had grown from this first invention.

Early in the nineteen-twenties, the Company's Technical Staff had seen the need for a complete apparatus which could be employed in the ever growing number of Cinemas which were being erected and B.V.C. Central Vacuum Cleaner Installations were introduced.

The system employed was briefly as follows:- In place of the original Portable machine, a complete equipment was installed at the time of the erection of the Cinema and pipes were led through the walls to various points in the foyer, vestibule, etc. When the Cinema was to be cleaned, all that the operator had to do was attach the hose and cleaning tools to a nearby floor point, and with the machine set in motion, dust which would be harmful to patrons was effortlessly removed. Not only places of entertainment, but many important buildings were cleaned with similar installations. For many years the Houses of Parliament had been cleaned by this method, and other prominent buildings included Thames House, County Hall, Sunlight House, etc, etc. The contribution of the Vacuum Cleaner to the improvement of the Public Health has been a considerable one. During the First Great War when the Royal Naval Reserve were at the old Crystal Palace there had been a serious outbreak of spotted fever. The many deaths alarmed the Naval Authorities and it was decided to clean out the Crystal Palace. The Company were asked to send a fleet of machines and 26 tons of dust were removed and the fever ceased. It is interesting to recollect also, that when a certain small theatre not equipped with dust-removal apparatus was vacuumed. 8.5 cwts. of dust were removed, and a subsequent analysis revealed that this dust contained the germs of nearly every disease known in this country. Another considerable contribution to public health was made when they tackled the problem of removal of flue dust by suction from Industrial Boilers and so maintain full boiler efficiency. This system proved to be hygienic in the fact that flue dust no longer poured into the air from chimneys of Gas Undertakings thereby polluting the air, and it was also found the boilers could be sooted while under steam so that it was found unnecessary to shut down for this work to be carried out. Today most modern Power Stations in this country and abroad are equipped with B.V.C. Flue Dust Removal Plant. Other applications included the pneumatic conveyance of fine coal, grain and other commodities whereby these were sucked by the vacuum from barges and trucks and carried through tubes direct to warehouses and dumps.

Today, with the benefit of these years of experience, this great industry carries on its works to the benefit of the community at large. Practically all the most progressive of the Transport Undertakings clean their Railway Carriages, Buses, Trams, etc., by the aid of pneumatic dust extraction and the Food Industries also benefit with the introduction some time ago of flour bag cleaning by air suction whereby, with the aid of powerful pumps, the residue flour is taken from the bags. Wherever food in powder form is used the system ensures that all containers are left entirely without residue which might produce germs and harmful effects. The most recent application of the vacuum cleaning principle and one which is gaining considerable popularity is the B.V.C. Chimney Sweeping Machine. This machine has been designed for use on all open domestic fires and boilers and makes the usual dirt and confusion of chimney sweeping a thing of the past. Every particle of soot is drawn by vacuum into a metal container to be disposed of when the operation is completed. So it is today that Mr. H.C. Booth and his colleagues at B.V.C. can look back with satisfaction on the growth of a great Industry of which they can rightly claim they were the pioneers.

Also see: Serious scholars may be interested in the paper entitled , "The origin of the vacuum cleaner" by H Cecil Booth, which was published in the Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1934-35 Vol 15.

BVC is a world-leading British manufacturer of Industrial Vacuum Cleaners, Vacuum Pumps / Exhausters and Central Vacuum Cleaning Systems.

BVC were founded over 100 years ago when the inventor of the vacuum cleaner Hubert Cecil Booth founded the British Vacuum Company which evolved into the present BVC.

BVC design, build and install special purpose vacuum units and fixed pipe systems and offer a full after-sales service to cater for the complex applications and needs of 21st century manufacturing industry and military facilities including ATEX compliance and stringent Health & Safety requirements.

To maintain high Quality products and service, BVC are a BS EN ISO 9001:2008 accredited company.

H. Cecil Booth

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