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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Even a baby can do it

Baby carriage or vacuum?

Hooray for ball bearings

Sleek sweep

Boxy design

Clean cars

So chic

Instrument of clean

A healthy clean


It sucks! It blows!

Built-in clean

Future cool

Tall vacuum

Study in red

Easy peasy

Cleaning in the atomic age

Vacuum cleaners weren't always sleek handhelds or self-directing robots.

This image of an early vacuum cleaner came from a handbook for architects, circa 1911. The text advocated wiring new buildings to be vacuum-cleaner friendly, citing "the inestimable value of a portable cleaning system in apartments, hotels, churches and homes."

Caption by / Photo by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

This is what portable cleanliness looked like around the dawn of the 20th century: "A dust receiver and motor are mounted upon an iron frame, which in turn is carried on two 16-inch rubber tired wheels, enabling the operator to easily move it around," raved an electrical news publication of the era.

Caption by / Photo by University of Toronto

Around the year 1890, magazines and catalogues sang the praises of vacuums like this Bissell, with its ball-bearing technology.

Caption by / Photo by University of Toronto Libraries

The Reeves Suction Sweeper from the early 20th century looked pretty sleek for the era.

Caption by / Photo by Smithsonian Libraries

In the early 1900s, hygiene handbooks also advocated boxy "hand-run vacuum cleaners" as an alternative to "the barbarous broom" in battling "those baleful twins, bacteria and dust."

Caption by / Photo by The Library of Congress

This is how trains used to get clean -- with a vacuum cleaner on 20-inch wheels.

From a 1908 railway journal: "The entire equipment consists of one 12-in. carpet sweeper; two 4-in. renovating 50-ft. piece of vacuum hose; one reducer, for reducing from hose nipple to small tools, and one blower to nozzle."

Caption by / Photo by Smithsonian Libraries

Vacuums from the Spencer Turbine Cleaner Company were apparently what all the fashionable gents were wearing circa 1909.

Caption by / Photo by Library of Congress

This cello-like vacuum cleaner was used around 1912.

Caption by / Photo by University of Toronto Libraries

A doctor in 1917 described this generously sized Hoover cleaner as "being the most practical for use in our Sanitarium."

Caption by / Photo by The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Historical Medical Library

This 1912 Eureka vac "only weighs nine pounds, and is only eight inches high," a hardware merchandizing publication raved.

Caption by / Photo by University of Toronto Libraries

In 1911, a hardware merchandizing publication marveled that this vacuum cleaning "machine with the double tank" was "built entirely of malleable iron and steel (others use tin and wood)."

Caption by / Photo by University of Toronto Libraries

Around 1916, homebuilders experimented with permanent vacuum cleaning systems built right into homes. "The stationary cleaner is installed in the house much on the same plan as the heating or plumbing system," one hygiene handbook explained.

Caption by / Photo by Cornell University Library

This supercool retro-futuristic design appeared in a 1919 magazine.

Caption by / Photo by University of Toronto

In the early 1920s, makers of this hulking Tuec vacuum claimed the appliance "changes the very air in every room."

Caption by / Photo by Canadian Centre for Architecture

The squat vacuum cleaners of 1948 boasted a "modern finish."

Caption by / Photo by Internet Archive

The Ladies Home Journals of the 1940s were festooned with ads for trash-can-like vacuums that emptied "as easy as I empty an ash tray."

Caption by / Photo by Internet Archives

This is what vacuuming in Holland looked like in the 1950s.

Caption by / Photo by Netherlands National Archives