A Brief History of Cleaning

(Or How We Learned to Stop Beating our Rugs and Just Vacuum Them)

So, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week ended recently, which is bittersweet. Sweet because we love sharks. (Come on, right? Who doesn’t love sharks? Seals maybe...). But it’s bitter because, while sharks are awesome, we’re still waiting for a week of TV devoted to something even more awesome: Cleaning.

Can you imagine how entertaining it would be to plop down on the couch with a bowl of popcorn and root beer and learn all about cleaning? Its’ history! Its’ technology! All the interesting facts and tidbits! OK, OK, OK. Maybe sharks are way more interesting, but there is a lot of cool stuff to know about cleaning.

A few tidbits:

  • For a general overview of cleaning history, Wikipedia.org’s entry for housekeeping is a great starting point. It breaks down house cleaning into its respective chores –  removal of litter, dusting, removal of dirt, household chemicals, necessary tools, and yardwork. From surfactants to VOCs, it’s all covered.

  •  The broom has a surprisingly fascinating history. In Slate.com’s How the Broom Became Flat, we learn that in the 1800s, makeshift brooms were fashioned at home by taking whatever was around and fastening it all to a wood stick. (And you thought you had to spend $20 at a box store.)

  • Later in the same article, this interesting info: “Modern broom-making truly began, however, with the rise in cultivation of a previously underappreciated crop that would soon be called “broomcorn.” A species of tasseled grass (sorghum vulgare) that somewhat resembles the sweet corn plant, broomcorn’s seeds and fibers had previously been used for animal feed and not much else.” Later, we learn that Levi Dickinson “had the idea to use the grass to make a broom for his wife, as well as a few extra to peddle to neighbors. His broom—a round bundle of broomcorn lashed to a stick with some weaving around the top—proved to be more durable and effective than previous models, and it was soon in demand around the region. By 1800, Dickinson and his sons were making several hundred brooms a year to sell throughout the northeastern United States.”

  • Now for something closer to our hearts: The almighty vacuum. According to Thoughtco.com’s Invention and History of Vacuum Cleaners, before vacuums, our dirt-hating ancestors had to beat rugs and such to remove dirt and dust. Later, “On June 8, 1869, Chicago inventor Ives McGaffey patented a ‘sweeping machine.’ While this was the first patent for a device that cleaned rugs, it was not a motorized vacuum cleaner.” Later, other inventors tried various vacuuming methods – gas-powered machines, horse-drawn contraptions, apparatuses utilizing wet sponges. (Don’t ask.) It was James Spangler, a janitor, who invented the modernish vacuum in 1907. “Spangler tinkered with an old fan motor and attached it to a soap box stapled to a broom handle. Adding in a pillow case as a dust collector, Spangler invented a new portable and electric vacuum cleaner. He then improved his basic model, the first to use both a cloth filter bag and cleaning attachments. He received a patent in 1908.” Spangler sold his rights to William Hoover. The rest is history.

Shop-Vac, of course, made all this vacuuming business much, much better. (Wet-dry vac in the house, y’all!) And we, too, have an interesting history all our own. Care to hear it? Great! We’ll save it for a future blog.