Hi, I’m Dr Andi from Museum Victoria. I’m glad you could join me for another episode of Meet Me at the Museum. We're here at Scienceworks. But before we start, here’s a quiz for you.
What am I? I’m a bit of a dust collector. My engine noise immediately puts newborn babies to sleep. My demonstration models often involve holding up bowling balls and keeping up beach balls.
Yes, you guessed it. I am the vacuum cleaner.
You know, the humming sound really does put babies to sleep. The reason is that the humming sound mimics the swooshing sound in the womb. Welcome to House Secrets, and welcome to the secret past life of the vacuum cleaner.
In the era of the industrial revolution, our cities and homes must’ve become very sooty, so it’s not surprising this heralded the era of carpet sweepers and mechanically operated vacuum cleaners. But by the 20th Century, with the advent of electricity and ingenuity, this meant vacuum cleaners had arrived.
Here’s a 1920s Hoover Junior. On the inscription it says, ‘By appointment of the late King George VI, manufacturer of electric suction sweepers.’ And the famous Hoover Constellation. It looked like Saturn and it glided on its exhaust air almost like a hovercraft.
Forget the Charles and Di mug. Forget the Kate and Will tea towel. Forget the commemorative coin. Because we can have a commemorative vacuum cleaner. This Aqua Pinnock compact was made in honour of the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games. And they only made a hundred.
Inside the thousands of these filing cabinets here at the Scienceworks Collection Store is the magnificent Museum Victoria trade literature collection. This particular booklet is my favourite. It’s from round about the mid to late 1930s. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Look at this. You can use your Electrolux cleaner to clean your dog and there she is hoovering her Afghan. And there’s a section in this booklet also on Electrolux for Men. And here’s a picture of a chap grooming his horse. Check this one: ‘Now a new kind of vacuum cleaner.’ And check this marketing from the 1970s. This lovely orange-yellow James Bond lady pointing her vacuum cleaner at you.
Before we dissect a vacuum cleaner, we have to dissect dust. Now in order to do that we need either a microscope or we could magically shrink down to this size and go inside a vacuum cleaner hose. And luckily here at Scienceworks they’ve done just that.
A small proportion of dust has dirt and grit from outside, pollen from plants, tiny fibres from your clothes, animal hair, human hair, animal dandruff, insect parts and daily grind.
While the exact composition of dust does depend on where you live, an overwhelming 75% to 90% of dust is actually dead human skin cells. We humans slough off millions of cells a day. Ugh, I really must exfoliate.
In among our dead human skin cells are the dried up carcasses of dust mites and their faeces. This dead dust mite has been magnified 400 times. And 2,000 of these live on one speck of dust.
Now let’s dissect a standard vacuum cleaner. One area has a fan and another area has a dust bag or a container. The fan creates a pressure difference and so air is sucked into the bag area along with the dust.
Well let’s go back to the late 1970s early 1980s to this guy in the shirt. James Dyson was frustrated with ordinary vacuum cleaners that lose their suction because the dust clogs the bag and blocks the airflow. Here he is comparing the suction of the old standard vacuum cleaner, which is not very good, to his new cyclone design, where the air spins the dust out of the way of the airflow. The result? No loss of suction. It’s a success.
So let’s jump to 1995 and the bagless cyclone vacuums and the new dual cyclone vac, they had become the best selling vacuum cleaner on the UK market.
I must seem like a vacuum cleaner salesman, but trust me, I am a curator. On the market there are a whole lot of different types of vacuum cleaners, including robotic ones. But whatever you use, spend a moment and reflect on the secret past life of your vacuum cleaner.