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Even a baby can do it

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."

Published:Caption:Photo:University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
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Baby carriage or vacuum?

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.

Published:Caption:Photo:University of Toronto
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Hooray for ball bearings

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

Published:Caption:Photo:University of Toronto Libraries
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Sleek sweep

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

Published:Caption:Photo:Smithsonian Libraries
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Boxy design

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."

Published:Caption:Photo:The Library of Congress
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Clean cars

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 nozzles...one 50-ft. piece of vacuum hose; one reducer, for reducing from hose nipple to small tools, and one blower to nozzle."

Published:Caption:Photo:Smithsonian Libraries
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So chic

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

Published:Caption:Photo:Library of Congress
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Instrument of clean

This cello-like vacuum cleaner was used around 1912.

Published:Caption:Photo:University of Toronto Libraries
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A healthy clean

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

Published:Caption:Photo:The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Historical Medical Library
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Eureka!

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

Published:Caption:Photo:University of Toronto Libraries
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It sucks! It blows!

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)."

Published:Caption:Photo:University of Toronto Libraries
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Built-in clean

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.

Published:Caption:Photo:Cornell University Library
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Future cool

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

Published:Caption:Photo:University of Toronto
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Tall vacuum

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

Published:Caption:Photo:Canadian Centre for Architecture
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Study in red

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

Published:Caption:Photo:Internet Archive
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Easy peasy

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."

Published:Caption:Photo:Internet Archives
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Cleaning in the atomic age

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

Published:Caption:Photo:Netherlands National Archives
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