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Jim Kirby
Inventor, Domestic Vacuum,
Premier Vacuum, Kirby Vacuum

September 28, 1884 - June 9, 1971

Jim Kirby, in 1900 owned a motor repair shop in Cleveland, Ohio, and was a fledgling inventor. A man named Knocks asked Jim to build a massage machine. Jim did, Knocks used it as a premium item, and eventually, 1903 - 1904, it was sold to P. A. Geier, who manufactured it under the name “Royal.” A Cleveland doctor wanted a device that would answer a telephone. Jim went to work, and shortly had such a “gadget” operating. It used an Edison cylinder phonograph, was operated by automatic electrical controls, and when completed would say, “The doctor is out. This is a phonograph talking. Please speak your message and it will be repeated to the doctor when he returns.” It operated so well the doctor had it patented. One day, seeing a huge wagon-mounted vacuum cleaner, Jim concluded he could make a portable unit. His first cleaner, marketed by Domestic Vacuum Cleaner Company, sold for $25.00 as a hand pump model or $85.00 with an electric motor. The machine utilized two buckets of water as filters, which had to be c
arried around and emptied frequently. By 1910, he was working on a “broom stick” carpet cleaning model that had a cut-off mechanism that allowed attachments to be used with the machine.

Kirby was the pioneer in developing the concept of a very lightweight, nozzle type vacuum, radically different from the cumbersome box-type vacuums of the era. Kirby met 3 brothers, Edward and Clarence, who were in the building materials business, and Walter Frantz, who was a mechanic. The Frantz brothers obtained the rights to manufacture and sell Kirby’s newest vacuum, and the Premier Vacuum Cleaner Company was formed. Model B was sold with a narrow suction only nozzle. Model C introduced a wide nozzle and a brush. Model D had an air-driven brush. During World War I, Kirby came in contact with George Scott and Carl Fetzer, owners of the Scott & Fetzer Company. Scott & Fetzer owned a blacksmith company in Cleveland, and were currently manufacturing military armaments for the war effort. When the war ended, they began manufacturing a new, improved model of Kirby’s cleaner. The machine has been sold ever since by Scott & Fetzer under the Kirby label on a door to door basis. Kirby spent his final inventive year
s dividing his time equally between Scott & Fetzer and the Frantz Brothers, whose corporate identity would later become Frantz Industries.

1994 Vacuum & Sewing Hall of Fame Inductee