Booth was a real sucker for good in­ven­tion

Gloucestershire Echo - - NOSTALGIA -

HU­BERT Ce­cil Booth is hardly a house­hold name, yet there is hardly a house­hold that does not have one of the ap­pli­ances he in­vented – the vac­uum cleaner.

Born in Gloucester on July 4, 1871, Booth was one of six sons.

His fa­ther Abra­ham Booth was a wealthy tim­ber mer­chant in the city and the fam­ily home in St Michael’s Square sur­vives to this day.

Af­ter be­ing ed­u­cated at Hemp­sted Court School and Gloucester The­o­log­i­cal Col­lege, Booth be­came a stu­dent at the City and Guilds Cen­tral Technical Col­lege, Lon­don, emerg­ing three years later as a con­struc­tion en­gi­neer.

He de­signed en­gines for bat­tle­ships, drew up the plans for fac­to­ries, built bridges and was com­mis­sioned to cre­ate the big wheel at Black­pool.

So suc­cess­ful was this amuse­ment at the sea­side re­sort that Booth went on to con­struct fer­ris wheels in Paris and the one in Vi­enna that fa­mously fea­tured in Carol Reed’s film The Third Man.

In 1900 Hu­bert Booth was in­vited to the demon­stra­tion at St Pan­cras Sta­tion of an Amer­i­can ma­chine the rail­way com­pany was test­ing as a way of speed­ing up the clean­ing of car­riages.

It proved to be lit­tle dif­fer­ent from sim­i­lar ma­chines that had been around since about 1850, all of which sim­ply blew the dust some­where else.

The in­no­va­tive idea that struck Booth was to in­vent a ma­chine that sucked up the dust, rather than just move it about.

The re­sults were the world’s first vac­uum cleaner, which he patented in 1901 and a com­pany he founded to make and mar­ket the de­vice, which

was called, with ad­mirable can­dour, The Vac­uum Cleaner Com­pany Ltd.

The pro­to­type was made by the Gloucester firm of Field­ing and Platt and the first prop­erty to be vac­uum cleaned was St Cather­ine’s Vicarage in the city’s Heathville Road, lend­ing weight to the old say­ing that clean­li­ness is next to God­li­ness.

Booth’s in­ven­tion was not of the kind that springs to mind when most of us hear the words vac­uum cleaner.

His cre­ation was about the size of a Tran­sit van and took two horses to pull it.

If you con­tacted The Vac­uum Cleaner Com­pany and booked a clean­ing ses­sion, this sub­stan­tial de­vice on four wheels ar­rived out­side your house and a team of men wear­ing pro­tec­tive over­alls rushed in with hoses, rather like mod­ern day fire­men at the scene of a se­ri­ous con­fla­gra­tion.

Booth’s ma­chine was so noisy that his com­pany of­ten re­ceived writs from the own­ers of horses that had bolted when the petrol en­gine that pow­ered it was started.

De­spite this, hav­ing your house cleaned by The Vac­uum Cleaner Co car­ried a cer­tain so­cial ca­chet and was a highly vis­i­ble way of im­press­ing the neigh­bours.

Vac­uum cleaner par­ties be­came fash­ion­able.

Well-to-do ladies in­vited their friends to pop round for tea and cu­cum­ber sand­wiches to watch as burly chaps wield­ing pli­able hoses at­tacked the car­pets and cur­tains.

Priced at £350 (that’s more than £25,000 in to­day’s val­ues), a Booth vac­uum cleaner was no cheap gim­mick.

But jobs for high-pro­file cus­tomers pro­vided valu­able pub­lic­ity which helped to pop­u­larise the in­ven­tion.

Booth demon­strated his cleaner at the Royal Mint, then had to give the dust col­lec­tion bag back so the gold dust it con­tained could be re­cov­ered.

The com­pany was in­vited to clean the car­pet in West­min­ster Abbey for the corona­tion of Ed­ward VII and Queen Alexan­dra.

Dust ex­tracted from the car­pets of Marl­bor­ough House, home to the Princess of Wales, was an­a­lysed by Pro­fes­sor Stan­ley Kent of Univer­sity Col­lege, Bris­tol who pro­nounced that it con­tained 355,500,000 liv­ing or­gan­isms.

Booth’s com­pany re­ceived the Royal war­rant when it in­stalled vac­uum clean­ers in Buck­ing­ham Palace and Wind­sor Cas­tle.

All of which helped busi­ness thrive. Smaller vac­uum clean­ers that could be used by a sin­gle per­son in the home were even­tu­ally in­tro­duced and in 1926 the Vac­uum Cleaner Com­pany adopted the Goblin trade­mark and went on to ex­pand its prod­uct range to in­clude, among oth­ers, the Teas­made.

Booth was joined by a part­ner in the busi­ness named Jo­hann Vaaler, who was no slouch him­self when it came to in­ven­tions – he patented the pa­per clip.

Hu­bert Ce­cil Booth mar­ried a Gloucester woman named Fran­cis Tring Pearce whose fa­ther was a di­rec­tor of the flour millers Pri­day, Met­ford and Co, who had premises in the Docks un­til about 1990.

In the 1930s Booth wrote his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy but for a man who had led an in­ter­est­ing life, the ti­tle he chose for the book was per­haps not as en­tic­ing as it might have been.

He called it The Ori­gin of the Vac­uum Cleaner.

A more com­pact vac­uum cleaner com­pared with the orginal, below. A blue plaque for Hu­bert Booth and, below, his house in St Michael’s Square

NOS­TAL­GIA Vac­uum cleanr mak­ing a house call

Hu­bert Ce­cil Booth

The house in St Michaels

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