James M. Spangler
James Murray Spangler
|Died||January 22, 1915 (aged 66)|
|Resting place||West Lawn Cemetery, Canton, Ohio|
|Known for||Invention of the portable electric vacuum cleaner|
|Awards||National Inventors Hall of Fame (2006)|
James Murray Spangler (November 20, 1848 – January 22, 1915) was an American inventor, salesman and janitor who invented the first commercially successful portable electric vacuum cleaner that revolutionized household carpet cleaning. His device was not the first vacuum cleaner, but it was the first that was practical for home use. It was the first to use both a cloth filter bag and cleaning attachments. Spangler improved this basic model and received a patent for it in 1908. He formed the Electric Suction Sweeper Company to manufacture his device. William H. Hoover was so impressed with the vacuum cleaner that he bought into Spangler's business and patents.
Early years and personal life
Spangler was one of ten children born to Mr. William Spangler & Mrs. Elizabeth Lind Spangler on November 20, 1848. The Spangler family was originally from Plains Township, Pennsylvania and settled in Stark County, Ohio.
On May 21, 1874, Spangler married Elista (Lettie) Amanda Holtz. They had three children, Clarence, Francis and Jennie. In 1880 they moved to Akron.
Careers, jobs and patents
After moving to Akron, Spangler was in business with his brother selling gent's furnishings. He also worked for the Aultman Company as a salesman.
Spangler was granted a patent on a grain harvester in 1887. He invented certain new and useful improvements such as the sliding tailboard made of sheet metal. He removed a standard tailboard and provided the sliding tailboard to regulate the width of the platform and adjust it to grain of different length. He also installed guards that prevented straw or grain from wrapping around the roller. Spangler invented a combined hay rake and tedder which was patented in 1893. By his peculiar arrangement, he was able to provide a combined hay rake and tedder in one machine, thereby reducing the cost. He formed a company for its sale which was unsuccessful and short-lived.
In 1897 he was granted a patent for a velocipede wagon and sold his invention to a company in Springfield, Ohio. He claimed as new “the combination of the body or box, mounted upon traveling wheels”. The bicycle became quite popular at the same time and interfered with the sale of the wagon.
He later worked as a sweeper at the Zollinger Dept. Store located in the Folwell Building. located on the northwest corner of the public square in Canton, Ohio. (The top floor was occupied – in 1907 - by the Elks Club and the remaining floors occupied by the Wm. R. Zollinger Dept. Store.)
Invention of the portable electric vacuum cleaner
Spangler was an asthmatic. Almost 60 and cursed with strong disease, he grew frustrated at the tiring and dusty work of sweeping the carpet in the store where he worked. He suspected that the carpet sweeper he used on the job was the source of his cough. A tinkerer at heart, he set his mind to making an electric carpet sweeper.
While watching a rotary street sweeper in operation, Spangler got the idea to mount the motor from a ceiling fan onto a carpet sweeper and cut a hole in the back of the sweeper to attach fan blades which would blow dirt out of the rear of the cleaner into an attached dirt bag (a pillow case he borrowed from the store). He attached a leather belt from the motor shaft to the wood cylinder brush roll and a broom stick supplied the handle. In his next attempt he used a wooden soap box as the main body. He used his invention successfully in cleaning the Folwell Building. Bringing his ingenuity to bear on the problem, Spangler fashioned a tin box, a pillowcase, an electric fan, and a broom handle into something we might recognize today as a crude vacuum cleaner. Spangler called it a "suction sweeper."
Despite being primitive and unwieldy, it worked—Spangler's asthma abated, and he received a patent for his troubles. He also realized that he might finally have a salable invention. Spangler first tested his invention in 1907. During the next year, he refined the vacuum numerous times, and on June 2, 1908, he received a patent for his sweeper.
Spangler, with $5000.00 invested by a friend, formed the Electric Suction Sweeper Company. Ray Harned, nephew and financial representative of F.G. and W.H. Folwell, formed a partnership with Spangler in the fall of 1907. The Folwells had financed Zollingers and were financing Spangler who had filed an application for a patent in September 1907. However, in just a few months, finances were gone. Spangler didn't have the capital to mass-produce his gadget. So he showed the suction sweeper to his cousin Susan Hoover, who tried it, liked it, and extolled its virtues to her husband, William Hoover, a leather-goods manufacturer.
The timing was fortuitous: With the automobile gaining popularity, William Hoover was concerned about the market for his horse collars and harnesses, and was eager to diversify. In 1908 he bought Spangler's patent, and he soon had a small staff toiling in the corner of his leather shop, turning out six suction sweepers a day. William Hoover made further improvements to the vacuum cleaner that resembled a bagpipe attached to a cake box, a novel look that was very functional. Sluggish sales of the Hoover vacuum cleaner were given a kick by Hoover’s ten-day, free home trial. Hoover came up with the idea of door-to-door salesmen who gave home demonstrations of the new vacuum cleaners. Hoover's success means that most people today associate the vacuum cleaner with him, rather than with Spangler.
After Spangler sold the patents to William Hoover, he stayed on with the Hoover Company as the superintendent. Spangler's wife and daughter (Jennie Spangler Painter) made all the bags for the sweepers until 1914 when the bag making was taken to New Berlin. His son, Clarence, worked for about a year with The Electric Suction Sweeper Co. in New Berlin. He became very ill and died in December 1911.
Spangler was planning the first vacation of his life, a trip to Florida. He died on January 22, 1915, the night before he was expected to leave for the trip at the age of 66. Spangler's family continued to receive royalties until his patent expired June 2, 1925.
- "Velocipede-Wagon" U.S. Patent 576,746, issue date: Feb 1897
- Mark Jackson. "Asthma: The Biography". Ed. Oxford University Press, 2009 ISBN 9780191622823. pp. 207–208]