Spring usually brings thoughts of ‘Spring Cleaning’ to many, especially those of the older generation. It seemed like a great time to explore methods of cleaning through the years at the Hoover Historical Center in North Canton, home of the Hoover Company. Here you’ll find the most extensive antique vacuum cleaner collection in the world.
Although the museum is located inside Walsh University’s Hoover Park, the building where it is located is actually the Victorian childhood home of William H. Hoover, founder of the Hoover Company. Tours begin in a modest building behind the house on their original family farm.
Located here was a tannery, a business the Hoovers engaged in before the vacuum cleaner idea caught his attention. This building served as the first home of the Hoover family with much of the inside being original.
In the tannery, there is an exhibit of their tanning equipment and the leather goods they produced. You’ll also see an exhibit of all early manually operated cleaning devices.
The first upright vacuum cleaner was invented by a friend of the family, James Spangler, in 1908. James, a department store janitor and part-time inventor, had a problem with asthma and thought the carpet cleaner he was using at work was the cause of it. He created the Electric Suction Sweeper and produced it himself for a while with the help of his family. But they only completed two or three machines a week.
Spangler sold one of these vacuums to a friend, Susan Hoover, who was so impressed with it that she told her husband ‘Boss’ and son Herbert about it. Quickly, Hoovers bought the patent and opened the Electric Suction Sweeper Company in New Berlin, now North Canton.
That first vacuum weight 40 pounds so not the easiest thing to push around the house. The cost was $60 for the vacuum and an additional $15 for attachments. Only the rich had electricity at this time so they were proud to purchase a new idea such as the vacuum.
Spangler became production supervisor receiving royalties in addition to his salary. The company name was changed in 1910 to Hoover Suction Sweeper Company with Spangler’s family still receiving royalties until 1925.
In order to gain public interest, Hoover placed an ad in The Saturday Evening Post offering customers ten days free use of his vacuum cleaner to anyone who requested it. He thus developed a national network of retailers for his vacuums. Before long, Hoover had companies in Canada and England.
The “Sweeping Changes” chronological display shows the evolution of Hoover appliances throughout their history. In 1932, the Hoover Company was the largest maker of vacuum cleaners in the world. By 1999, Hoover employed 2,800 workers in Stark County.
Sales conventions were a special summer event in North Canton. Salesmen from all over the United States and foreign countries met in Hoover Park. A circle of large tents was set up for their housing with a large tent for meals. Salesmen were taught how to sell and how not to sell through lively skits.
Here they learned about the three kinds of dirt: litter, dust and grit. All three were spread on people’s floors when salesmen went to demonstrate their vacuum, which would pick up all three.
While touring the house, listen to an old recording of Hoover salesmen singing, “All the Dirt, All the Grit,” the Hoover theme song in the 1920s and ’30s. They’ll give you the words so you can sing along if you like.
During WWII, 1500 children were moved out of England and shipped to Canada for safety purposes. Hoover families in London sent 83 of their children to stay with Hoover employees in Canton in 1940.
Boss Hoover took great care of them and paid all their medical expenses as well as treated them like family. These children were delighted to taste watermelon, hot dogs and hamburgers for the first time. All 83 returned to London after the war.
A special display shows items that were made during WWII. Since the men were all at war, 240 women worked in the factories in 1940 and no longer made vacuum cleaners. Instead, they made liners for helmets, parachutes, and fuses, which were said to be second in importance to the atomic bomb. By 1945, the number of women employed had risen to 3900. Hoover Company received many awards for their WII efforts.
After the war, the Hoover Company expanded into household items making a stand-up iron, apartment size washers and driers, and refrigerators. Back in 1988, they explored using robots to make their vacuums. This was a very forward-thinking company.
As you can tell, this small historic center is packed with interesting information about the history, not only of the vacuum but of our country and its people. Everyone loved ‘Boss’ Hoover, a name given him affectionately as he cared for his employees and their families. Perhaps that is how he became the first mayor of North Canton.
Hoover Historical Center is open to the public on Thursday, Friday and Saturday afternoons with tours beginning hourly 1-4 pm, March through October. No admission is charged for the tour, although donations are appreciated. There’s something here for almost any interest.
Every day is better with a Hoover. It Beats….as it Sweeps…as it Cleans!
Hoover Historical Center is located on the campus of Walsh University in North Canton. From I-77 take exit 109A to Whipple Avenue and Maple Street. The center is located at 1875 E. Maple Street.