Eureka straight-suction upright – c.1930

Gets the dirt – not the carpet.’

While Hoover’s performance claims were strongly associated with their motor-driven, beating, sweeping Agitator brushroll, Eureka initially championed the benefits of focussed high-velocity airflow to ‘clean without beating and pounding’. This slogan, playing into consumers’ fears that electrically sweeping and beating rugs would cause damage, was a dig at Hoover’s key cleaning technology.

Eureka’s approach to cleaning was in turn partially a result of Hoover’s patents, which made it very difficult for competitors to introduce similar motor-driven rotating brushes until the late 1920s.

Tellingly, once Hoover’s original patents began to expire, competitors like Eureka who had spent years bashing the rotating brush in their advertising, rushed to include this feature on their own machines.

Air-Way Fleetwood Special – c.1930

The fascinating and ingenious Air-Way upright was a radical departure from traditional upright vacuum cleaner design. Slimline and lightweight, its swivel-jointed ‘Quick-Up’ floor nozzle meant the cleaner could be lain on its side, flat to the floor, during use. This allowed it to reach easily under low furniture.

The Air-Way’s cleverest innovation was the way in which the suction path could be diverted up the wide, hollow handle by rotating the see-though valve on the motor unit. Dusting tools could then be attached directly to the handle via a flexible suction hose.

The Air-Way could also be used as a blower, a hair-dryer, a floor polisher, and a bug-sprayer.

Air-Way are significant in vacuum cleaner history because they introduced the first disposable dust bags, constructed of multiple layers of cellulose fibre. For the first time, disposing of dust became a quick and clean job, since it did not involve shaking out a messy permanent cloth bag.

The transparent suction valve was made of celluloid, the handle of black phenol plastic, and the protective outer bag was made of knitted silk.

The ‘Quick-Up’ floor nozzle with the floor waxing pad in place. The waxer could also be flipped over to utilise it’s bristled side, for cleaning hard floors.

General Electric Model 111 – c.1933

General Electric Model 111

The beautiful and innovative General Electric Model 111 was launched in 1933. Styled by architect Allmon Fordyce of New York, its dramatic streamlined Art Deco styling was matched by an equally impressive list of features:

  • Dual rear swivel castors, making the machine easy to steer around furniture and obstacles.
  • Reshaped, rubber-lined fan chamber to suppress fan tone, and noise created by turbulent airflow.
  • Rubber-mounted motor to reduce vibration and noise.
  • Powerful 375w 2-speed motor, allowing the user to reduce power when vacuuming lighter rugs.
  • Air-cooled motor with sealed, maintenance-free bearings.
  • Anti-clockwise rotating, thickly tufted brush bar.
  • Convenient nozzle height adjustment lever.
  • Improved cloth bag material, providing greater airflow.

Along with Electrolux Model XXX cylinder, and comparable Hoover Model 800 upright, G-E Model 111 was among the first generation of domestic appliances to benefit from the styling flourishes of great machine-age industrial designers. The disastrous crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression necessitated huge effort to recover the global economy. Manufacturers sought to stimulate the consumer market with appealing new designs and desirable features – particularly at the premium end of the market. Art Deco styling and streamlining

Deluxe sister G-E model ‘The Super’ 111-A included all Model 111’s features but benefitted from an additional ‘Spot*Light’ headlamp – one of the first few vacuum cleaners to do so. The headlamp bulb was rubber-mounted, protecting the delicate filament from vibration and impacts with furniture.

Model 111’s underpinnings were shared by the Premier Grand and Singer R-1 uprights. They each included a brush bar which rotated anti-clockwise, rather than in the standard clockwise direction. There was method to the apparent madness: in the days before fitted wall-to-wall carpeting, vacuuming up to the edge of a rug would often end with the rug being pulled into the nozzle. By designing the brush bar to sweep away from the nozzle, the intention was that the vacuum could clean right to the edge of the rug without pulling it in. How well this actually worked in practice is debatable, and it does require trade-offs to be made to debris pickup performance and push force, which may be the reason this feature never became commonplace.

Unlike Hoover’s contemporary upright vacuums, G-E did not offer a set of dusting tools for above-floor cleaning. Instead, their range included a compact hand-held vacuum that could be purchased for vacuuming stairs, upholstery and inside the automobile.


Bylock ‘Beautility’ Table Vac – c.1964

To most people, the phrase ‘table vac’ conjures the image of a battery-operated, miniature crumb-remover. However, when Bylock used the term in the 1950s and 60s, they meant it much more literally. Their machine was, in fact, a table, which was also a vacuum cleaner!

Meant strictly for 1-level dwellings such as bungalows and flats (no provision was provided for lifting the machine up stairs), it could be used as needed as a small side table. However, the hose and tools were all stored inside, and could be connected in moments to create an impromptu vacuum cleaner. It followed the user around on 4 swivel castors.

Open it up, and concealed inside are all the workings of a vacuum cleaner.

Plug the hose into one end, feed the cord out of the other, and you’re ready to go.

The bags have a transparent cellophane section in the top, and bag door is clear too, so you can see when it needs emptying.