Booth, Hubert Cecil

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b. 1871 Gloucester, England d. 1955
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English mechanical, civil and construction engineer best remembered as the inventor of the vacuum cleaner.
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As an engineer Booth contributed to the design of engines for Royal Navy battleships, designed and supervised the erection of a number of great wheels (in Blackpool, Vienna and Paris) and later designed factories and bridges.
In 1900 he attended a demonstration, at St Paneras Station in London, of a new form of railway carriage cleaner that was supposed to blow the dirt into a container. It was not a very successful experiment and Booth, having considered the problem carefully, decided that sucking might be better than blowing. He tried out his idea by placing a piece of damp cloth over an upholstered armchair. When he sucked air by mouth through his cloth the dirt upon it was tangible proof of his theory.
Various attempts were being made at this time, especially in America, to find a successful cleaner of carpets and upholstery. Booth produced the first truly satisfactory machine, which he patented in 1901, and coined the term "vacuum cleaner". He formed the Vacuum Cleaner Co. (later to become Goblin BVC Ltd) and began to manufacture his machines. For some years the company provided a cleaning service to town houses, using a large and costly vacuum cleaner (the first model cost £350). Painted scarlet, it measured 54×10×42 in. (137×25×110 cm) and was powered by a petrol-driven 5 hp piston engine. It was transported through the streets on a horse-driven van and was handled by a team of operators who parked outside the house to be cleaned. With the aid of several hundred feet of flexible hose extending from the cleaner through the windows into all the rooms, the machine sucked the dirt of decades from the carpets; at the first cleaning the weight of many such carpets was reduced by 50 per cent as the dirt was sucked away.
Many attempts were made in Europe and America to produce a smaller and less expensive machine. Booth himself designed the chief British model in 1906, the Trolley- Vac, which was wheeled around the house on a trolley. Still elaborate, expensive and heavy, this machine could, however, be operated inside a room and was powered from an electric light fitting. It consisted of a sophisticated electric motor and a belt-driven rotary vacuum pump. Various hoses and fitments made possible the cleaning of many different surfaces and the dust was trapped in a cloth filter within a small metal canister. It was a superb vacuum cleaner but cost 35 guineas and weighed a hundredweight (50 kg), so it was difficult to take upstairs.
Various alternative machines that were cheaper and lighter were devised, but none was truly efficient until a prototype that married a small electric motor to the machine was produced in 1907 in America.
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Further Reading
The Story of the World's First Vacuum Cleaner, Leatherhead: BSR (Housewares) Ltd. See also Hoover, William Henry.
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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