by Brian Roulston

Housework is an unavoidable part of everyday life. When we think about cleaning the house, we often envision loading the washer and dryer, emptying the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, and, of course, vacuuming the carpet or the floor.

Hamilton was formerly at the forefront of vacuum cleaner technology in the early part of the 20th century. Located at Barton and Gage Street was the Hoover Vacuum Cleaner manufacturing plant, originally from North Canton, Ohio. Today, its memory lives on in a small strip mall known as the Stadium Mall. The Stadium Mall’s red brick façade is said to have come from the Hoover facility after it was torn down in 1966.

An engineer by the name of Cecil Booth, designer of railroad and suspension bridges, Ferris wheels, is better known as the inventor of the first successful vacuum cleaner. His innovation was so big that it required a team of horses to move it from door to door in London. Cleaning your home with Booth’s vacuum cleaner cost about the same as hiring a housekeeper for a year. Long hoses were fed into the home via a window or door and gasoline engine powered suction was used to draw air and debris to a filter.

For the rich, getting their home vacuumed became a status symbol and was exciting. The estates of the elite would have tea parties in the garden while their home was being vacuumed, and the guests were invited to watch the dirt and dust gather in a glass chamber located on the side of the cleaner, which was strictly a marketing gimmick; a bag or wooden box would have easily sufficed.  Booth’s vacuum cleaning business didn’t last very long since neighbors complained about the noise. The clatter of his huge contraption would startle horses on the street. Several disgruntled inventors sued Booth claiming they invented the first vacuum cleaner. However, Booth was able to convince both judge and jury that his invention was the only one that actually worked. He even sold a couple of his huge vacuum cleaners to Tsar Nicholas II and to the House of Commons in London, England. Vacuum cleaners eventually became smaller, more portable, and less expensive. By the time World War 1broke out in 1915, Hoover and Eureka were the two most dominant vacuum cleaner manufacturers on the planet.

Murray Spangler worked as a janitor by day and as an inventor by night; he was also asthmatic. In 1906, attempting to relieve his suffering, he developed the first “Suction Sweeper” using a tin soap box, a pillowcase, a box fan, and a broom handle. It worked, and is the precursor to what we use in our homes and businesses today.

The Hoover facility in Canton, Ohio became too small, and they built another plant in Windsor, Ontario in 1910, their first foray into the international markets. By 1941 Hoover would have plants in S. Africa, and N.S. Wales. Hoover eventually moved their head offices to Windsor as well. Within a brief time, the corporate offices moved again just prior to the building of Hoover’s newest plant, in Hamilton in 1919.

This plant started with a hundred employees assembling vacuum cleaners until the equipment needed to do the actual manufacturing was installed a few months later. King George V of England ordered one of the first vacuum cleaners ever built in Hamilton.

During World War II, the Hamilton Hoover plant, like other manufacturers retooled for the war effort, producing aircraft motors, grenade pins, generators, and radio equipment. Between 1946 and 1950, Hoover expanded the Hamilton plant three times, the third addition cost $200,000, a considerable amount money at the time, the workforce rose to 400 workers. Due to better efficiency, the number of employees dropped slightly to 350 personnel by 1958. Within the 15 years preceding 1960, the facility had more than doubled in size.
Through the 1960s, Hoover invested $1.7 million, expanding their facility once again, this time they added new departments such as motor assembly, an accessories production room, cleaner manufacturing, and a new shipping facility. A significant shift would take place when Hoover introduced its popular twin-tub washing machine which was designed in England. The washing machines were so popular, a whole new factory was built in Burlington. After three years, this plant was expanded again. For a brief time, the Burlington Hoover plant expanded their product lines to include blenders, frying pans and other household appliances which they produced in addition to vacuum cleaners. Another expansion of the Burlington plant was needed in 1972 to incorporate a machine shop, presses, and plastic moldings, all of which were done at the Hamilton plant. Within the same year the Hamilton plant was emptied and shut down for good. All of the workers from Hamilton were transferred to the plant located on the QEW Service Road near Walker’s line.

The recession of the 1980s hit Hoover hard. In 1981 employment dropped to 135 workers, the following year only 119 employees remained, which was slightly more than the original number of employees that Hoover started with in Hamilton 53 years prior.

The Maytag Corporation acquired the Hoover brand in 1975. The Maytag company itself eventually was sold to the Whirlpool Corporation, which is now a subsidiary of Techtronic Industries Co. Ltd (TTI) of Charlotte North Carolina, North America’s leading floor care business.