25 Greatest Inventions of the 20th Century: Vacuum cleaners

Category: Technology/Innovations


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. take for granted / teɪk fər ˈgræn tɪd / (idiom) – to not properly appreciate someone or something that’s important or helpful

    It’s easy to take for granted things that we think are unlimited, like water and electricity.

  2. suction / ˈsʌk ʃən / (n.) – the process of sucking or drawing out air, water, etc. from a certain space or area

    Our vacuum is very old, so its suction is really weak now.

  3. portable / ˈpɔr tə bəl / (adj.) – easily carried or moved around

    I bought a new grill for camping, but it’s not very portable, so I may return it.

  4. spill / spɪl / (n.) – a situation where something, usually a liquid, accidentally comes out of a container

    Use this cloth to wipe up the spill on the table.

  5. a whole lot / ə hoʊl lɒt / (idiom) – very much

    I’m feeling a whole lot better after taking a nap.


Read the text below.

Welcome to our countdown of the 20th century’s top inventions, where we look at some of the things we take for granted and show how they changed the world.

We start in 1901, when a horse-drawn cart appeared on a London street. Workers carried hoses from the cart into a house to suck dust from the carpet into a container. Invented by Hubert Booth, it was the world’s first suction vacuum cleaner.

But his machine wasn’t portable, so the race began to invent vacuums for households. The first electric vacuum cleaner for home use was invented in 1907 by James Spangler of Ohio, who sold the design to businessman William Hoover. The vacuums became so popular that “hoover” is now a verb meaning “to vacuum.”

The worldwide vacuum cleaner market is now worth billions of dollars and still growing. And buyers face a dizzying choice. Do you buy a Dyson? They’re very powerful and don’t need bags. Do you get a handheld for those hard-to-reach areas, including inside cars, or for cleaning sudden spills? If you own your own home, you might install a central vacuum. Then you simply plug a hose straight into a wall socket, and the suction comes from an engine in a different part of your home. It’s expensive but better for allergy sufferers. Or maybe you get the latest innovation: robot vacuum cleaners that clean carpets and floors on their own.

Vacuum cleaners have come a long way since Booth’s time, but over the years, they’ve helped make housework cleaning a whole lot easier. (T)

This article was provided by The Japan Times Alpha.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • This article is the first in a series of the 20th century’s top inventions. Would you agree that vacuum cleaners belong on this list? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • The design for the first electric vacuum cleaner for home use was sold to businessman William Hoover, and now “hoover” is a verb meaning “to vacuum.” What other products are commonly known by a person’s or company’s name (ex. “hotchkiss” in Japan and South Korea, “band-aids” in many countries)? Do you know the generic names for them? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • In recent years, robot vacuum cleaners have become quite popular. How do you feel about them (ex. convenient, don’t clean as well as a person could)? Why? Discuss.
  • For central vacuums, you simply plug a hose straight into a wall socket, and the suction comes from an engine in a different part of your home. The author says that they’re expensive but better for allergy sufferers. Would you consider installing a central vacuum in your home? Why or why not? Discuss.