Booth was a real sucker for good invention
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