David T. Kenney
As father of the mechanical vacuum cleaner, David T. Kenney, a New Jersey plumber, just got in under the wire. An Englishman named Herbert Booth, pondering the follies of contemporary machines that blew dust out of rugs, got the notion of cleaning by vacuum about the same time as Kenney. The idea came to him one day when he was sitting in a restaurant. To test the possibilities, he put his mouth against the plush back of his chair and drew in his breath. As he choked, he knew he had the answer to the world’s housecleaning problems.
Although it was Booth who suffered, Kenney obtained the American patent and built the first working vacuum cleaner (1902). Housewives didn’t saw up their brooms for kindling when they learned of his invention, however. Installed in Pittsburgh’s Frick Building, Kenney’s apparatus weighed 4,000 pounds, cost $2,100, and had a steam-driven vacuum pump in the basement and a pipe outlet on every floor. It also included a “wet extractor” that worked like a giant Turkish hookah, sifting out dirt drawn in through the nozzle.
In spite of its peculiarities, this contraption opened the way for the modern portable cleaner. By 1905, a machine had been made weighing 50 pounds. Of course nature abhors a vacuum even today, but it is safe to say that, since 1905, the housewife doesn’t.
1994 Vacuum & Sewing Hall of Fame Inductee