I’m having friends over for dinner and that means hauling out the Hoover and attending to a chore I despise. That’s why I asked my husband to vacuum the house.
But it also puts me in mind of the upcoming anniversary of the patent for the first vacuum cleaner, issued on October 3rd, 1899. Granted, it was gasoline powered, not to mention bulky and loud, but it augered a major turning point for women in society. By 1907, the portable electric vacuum cleaner had been created by a cranky 60 year old janitor and tinkerer names James Spangler. The following year, in 1908, he sold the patent to his cousin’s husband, a guy named Hoover. And there was no turning back.
No matter how much we may think we still feel the yoke of housework, electric appliances like the vacuum helped fling open the window for women back in the early part of the 20th century.
Think of it! No more dragging heavy Persian rugs outside to beat the bejesus out of them for hours on end. Finally! Some help cleaning the endless soot that settled from gas lamps and fires.
By the 1920’s, electric appliances like the vac, the washing machine and the iron were being marketed as the new servants to middle and upper class women alike. Yeah, that put some servants out of work, but it also gave women the room and the time to start to think about something other than the laundry and to experience the world and society in a whole new way. They got out more, and that started a revolution.
Some studies show that women still spend close to the 52 hours a week cleaning that they did decades ago, because cleanliness standards have increased. Maybe, maybe not. Still, as much as I resent my vacuum cleaner, I have to give it props for clearing the way, in both senses of the word, for generations of women to come.