Historically Fort Bend: Carpet Cleaning in Late Victorian Texas
April brings with it what passes for spring in Fort Bend County. One of the many things associated with the season in the 19th century and today is spring cleaning, which includes chores like cleaning rugs and carpets. In colonial Texas, rugs were taken outside and beaten with wooden or metal beaters that resembled large spatulas or fly swatters. This was tedious work and sometimes left to children. It was also inefficient with a good deal of dirt probably still left in the rug or carpet. Brooms and dustpans, which were also used, did not do much better.
The mid to late 19th century was the Age of Invention stimulated by the Industrial Revolution. All kinds of gadgets and machines were invented to improve tasks around the home. Carpet sweepers were first invented in the 1810s in England but did not catch on even though improvements were made in the 1850s. Brushes turned by the manual pushing of the sweeper brush dust and dirt into a receptacle above them in the sweeper. The early models did not work well and often kicked up a cloud of dust and threw about more dirt than they collected. In 1876, Melville Bissell invented a carpet sweeper that became popular. He opened his first manufacturing plant in Grand Rapids, Mich. in 1883. The Bissell Corporation is still in operation making carpet sweepers and vacuums.
Efforts were also underway to make the activity more efficient. Early vacuum cleaners were invented that combined the brushes of a sweeper with suction provided by a bellows. Hubert Booth first used the term vacuum cleaner for his invention of a large contraption pulled by horse that suctioned dust. The first electric vacuum was invented by James Murray Spengler. In 1908, he sold his patent to William Hoover who made a fortune on the design. Hoover’s company is still in business. Manual vacuums were also produced at this time. Each of those required the user to pump a plunger up and down to create the suction needed to draw up the dust from the carpet. Some models required two people: one to pump and the other to move the vacuum head across the carpet.
Eventually improvements to the electric vacuum made manual vacuums obsolete and put a serious dent in the market for carpet sweepers, though those are still being produced. All those who clean house, whether in the spring or not, are grateful for the improvements. Vacuums are much better than rug beaters.
Historical facts and photos courtesy of the Fort Bend County Museum Association, Richmond, TX