Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Vacuum Cleaner: A History by Carroll Gantz (2012)

I requested this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program on the basis of some other everyday-technology-specific histories I'd read that really managed to draw the reader in despite the apparent dullness of their topic. While Carroll Gantz's The Vacuum Cleaner: A History (2012) didn't meet all my expectations for an exciting read, it did manage to pull me along and teach me quite a bit about vacuum cleaners and the history of floor cleaning technology.

Gantz starts with pre-electric floor cleaning, including rug beating, carpet sweeping, and the most adorable sounding two-person floor cleaner where one person works a set of bellows with their feet while the other person moves the brush around to clean the room. When things get motorized, they start with large steam engines that live on a horse drawn cart in the street with nozzles and brushes brought in through the windows for a thorough cleaning. For many years rich people and hotels would have a large gasoline powered central vacuum engine in the cellar with attachments coming off at each floor for suction cleaning. We move through the slow electrification of the country in the 20s-40s, and then the post-war boom of electric gadgets and efficient housewives. Eventually we get all the way to the modern trinity of the Dustbuster, the Dyson, and the Roomba.

Gantz is well-qualified to write this book, since he is the man who designed the Dustbuster in the 1980s and helped push Black and Decker to hand-held-floor-cleaner stardom. The book is at its most interesting when Gantz discusses the history and influence of industrial design on modern life, and at its most dull when he indulges his need to itemize every vacuum make, model, and manufacturer in mind-numbing detail. Gantz has a pretty readable writing style with an occasionally goofy twist borne from a little too much research (for example: "To encourage, benefit, and provide communication opportunities to these somewhat unconventional enthusiasts, the Vacuum Cleaner Collectors Club was co-founded by Robert Tabor and John Lucia in 1983, the same year that Brooks Robinson (b. 1937), former third basement of the Baltimore Orioles, nicknamed 'The Human Vacuum Cleaner,' was coincidentally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.")

The book is well-illustrated with black and white photographs of vacuum and floor cleaners as well as patent and design drawings. Gantz gets into a little bit of the history of advertising vacuum cleaners, and I would have liked to see more of that as well as some representative advertisements in the illustrations.

I'm not going to recommend that everyone go out and buy this, but if you have a propensity for nerding out on a topic and a general interest in floor cleaning technology, this is probably the book for you. I can't tell you how much more attention I've been paying to those Dyson ads....

No comments: