Eureka straight-suction upright – c.1930s

Gets the dirt – not the carpet.’

While Hoover’s performance claims were strongly associated with their motor-driven, beating, sweeping Agitator brushroll, Eureka spent their early years championing 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, took aim 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 brush bars until the late 1920s.

Tellingly, once Hoover’s original patents began to expire, competitors like Eureka who had spent years scaremongering about the rotating brush bar rushed to re-engineer their own machines to include this feature.

The machine features a single-speed motor, which whisks dust and debris from floors and surfaces into a permanent cloth shake-out bag. The nozzle height could be easily raised or lowered to suit different floor types by rotating a dial.

The wide floor cleaning nozzle detaches with a rotating half-turn latch, allowing a woven hose to connect for above-floor cleaning with the aid of an upholstery nozzle with a removable bristle attachment, or a lightweight aluminium crevice tool. Additional accessories included a removable felt pad to polish wooden flooring and a bristle attachment – both of which clip on to the floor cleaning nozzle – as well as a cylindrical aluminium container for moth crystals.

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, it’s 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 most noteworthy 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 floor polisher, a bug-sprayer, and even a hair dryer!

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, it’s 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 and Remoco Model SZ43 cylinders, 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 stock market 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.

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.

Remoco (Erres) SZ43 – c.1930s – 50s

First produced in Holland in 1935, the Remoco SZ43’s streamlined design was created for the Van Der Heem NV company by Otto van Tussenbroek – a museum director, artist, and industrial designer. Driven by the need to avoid relying on the seasonal sales peaks of their Erres-branded radio range, Van Der Heem diversified their product line to include this cylinder vacuum cleaner, in addition to two tank-style machines.

It was marketed in the UK under the Remoco brand, in Europe badged as Erres, and in the US and Canada with the Etonia label. Throughout production the basic machine, in its various guises, underwent a number of minor design updates to its tools, features and cosmetic details, and was still available post-war well in the 1950s.

SZ43 took on the aerodynamic teardrop form of a torpedo, with a bulbous black painted aluminium front end and tapering tail-cone evocative of a jet engine’s afterburner.

The streamlined Art Deco styling motifs are even carried over to the floor tools and accessories. Included with the machine were a woven hose, two curved extension wands, a dual mode floor tool with a retractable bristle strip, a hard floor tool, an upholstery nozzle, a dusting brush and a short crevice tool.

Perched on chromed sledge-style runners, and with a permanent shake-out cloth dustbag, it featured a powerful (for the time) 400w single-speed motor. Suction power could be increased or decreased by opening or closing a rotary air valve on the wand handle.

Pressing the large maroon on/off footswitch triggered a mechanical visual power indicator mechanism. The machine’s steel body was finished in green metallic hammerite paint, with a sturdy black Bakelite carrying handle and tail-cone. In common with many cylinder vacuums of the era, the hose could be attached to the exhaust outlet to provide a jet of compressed air.

The fit, finish and quality of the Remoco SZ43 and its components mark it out as a premium product.

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.