A blow job

Ask James Dyson how you feel when you have spent time inventing a machine to clean carpets, and arrive at that seminal point of showing your device to the wider public.

The audience in Queen’s Hall, who it must be said, knew little about vacuum cleaners waited in anticipation for the demonstration to commence as John S. Thurman an American inventor from St. Louis prepared to show to the world his labour saving device.

[S]tanding on the stage of the Empire Music Hall in 1901 demonstrating to his wide-eyed audience a machine which would conveniently blow dust away from where it has settled with impressive results.

The machine comprised of a square box with a bag perched on the top, its efficiency ensured that everyone in the first six rows of the London venue would sneeze as the dust flew into the air.

Unfortunately for its creator there sat in the audience Hubert Cecil Booth a civil engineer whose endeavours so far had, among others, designed three successful Ferris wheels in London, Blackpool and Vienna.

When approached after the demonstration the inventor was astonished by Booth’s suggestion. “Suck?” Exclaimed the enraged inventor “Yes”, replied Booth, “Your machine just moves the dust around the room”. At this preposterous suggestion the machine’s inventor stormed out never to be heard of in England again.

Booth on the other hand would go on to invent the world’s first Hoover, except it wasn’t called that for nearly another decade. Booth went on to design the first petrol-powered vacuum, dubbing it the “Puffing Billy.” With its suction-based cleaning action, this machine laid the foundation for modern vacuums.

Like Thurman’s design, the Puffing Billy was bulky. It had to be drawn by horse and set up outside homes and it was also noisy. Nonetheless, it achieved quite a following.

In 1901, Booth’s vacuum was even used to clean the carpets at Westminster Abbey, in preparation for the coronation of Edward VII. Over subsequent years, Booth’s company continued refining and improving on his first machine, creating electrically powered vacuums and eventually focusing on large models for industrial use.

But Thurman’s ingenuity was not in vain. The principle behind his ‘pneumatic carpet renovator’ would go on to power that American favourite – the leaf blower.

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