In the Beginning: Pre-order it today!

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In the Beginning's hitting stores in little over a week, and we're serving up another sample below. Enjoy!

The Vacuum Cleaner

51yai+MKH5L._AA240_.jpgHow can we put this politely "“ the first vacuum cleaners kinda sucked.

The Original Clean Sweep
You could say that H. Cecil Booth invented the first suction-powered vacuum cleaner . . . or you could say that he was the first suction-powered vacuum cleaner. Having seen early models that simply blew the dust around without capturing much of it, Booth was unimpressed and decided to try an experiment.

Sitting in a posh restaurant in London one day in 1898, he turned around, put his mouth on the upholstered seat, inhaled, and promptly choked on the huge amount of dust he sucked in. (We can't imagine what the wait staff made of this.) Perhaps, he thought, a filter would be in order "“ so he continued the experiment at home, covering his lips with various fabrics and taking giant gulps of detritus off his floor. Satisfied with the results he got with a handkerchief, he finally moved on to using a form of suction that wasn't, you know, his lungs. In 1901 he patented a giant machine, about the size of a refrigerator, that used a pump and a long, flexible hose to suck up dust. Despite its obvious drawbacks "“ it required two people to operate it and had to be wheeled through the streets on a dolly "“ the vacuum cleaner was a hit. The royals commissioned Booth personally to clean Westminster Abbey for the 1901 coronation of Edward VII; a few years later, the machine helped put an end to a Navy hospital epidemic of spotted fever (the germs were lurking on dust particles).

Vacuums Get Some Fans
The vacuum, useful though it was, remained a luxury for only the very rich until 1908 "“ when a decidedly not-very-rich, and until that point failed, inventor named James Spangler

improved on it out of necessity. Spangler was a janitor at a department store, and part of his job was to clean the carpets.

images16.jpgUnlike Booth, he didn't much enjoy inhaling dust "“ he was violently allergic. Already in debt, Spangler couldn't quit his job. Instead, he built himself a makeshift mini-vacuum with an electric fan motor, a soap box, some tape (to cover the cracks in the soap box), and a pillowcase. Unbelievably, it worked, and his friends were impressed enough to lend him some money. A wealthy Ohio businessman named William Hoover was impressed, too "“ he bought the rights to the design after his wife started raving about Spangler's invention, which she'd purchased to clean their mansion.

Getting Handy with the DustBuster
Technically, Carroll Gantz, an industrial designer who used to work for Black & Decker, is the guy who invented the cordless hand vacuum. But the DustBuster also owes its existence to the agency responsible for the smoke detector, the Jaws of Life, and freeze-dried ice cream "“ that's right, NASA.
According to the agency's records, astronauts in the Apollo program "needed a way to drill down beneath the moon's surface, as much as 10 feet, to collect core samples. Like everything else that went to the moon, this drill had to be small, light weight and battery-powered. . . . A computer program was used to design the drill's motor to use as little power as possible. That computer program, along with the knowledge and experience gained in developing the drill, provided a strong technology base for developing battery powered tools and appliances." Among those appliances was the cordless hand vac, introduced in 1978.

Can't wait the 9 days for In the Beginning? Pre-order your copy at any of these fine stores today: Amazon, B&N, Borders, Books-A-Million. Oh, and if you e-mail us your proof of purchase at newsletters@mentalfloss.com, we'll send you an autographed sticker to place in the book!

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October 22, 2007 - 2:00am
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