James Murray Spangler was an American inventor, salesman and janitor who invented the first commercially successful portable electric vacuum cleaner that revolutionised household cleaning.

His device was not the first vacuum cleaner, but it was the first that was practical for home use and 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. One of his first customers was his own cousin, who was married to William Hoover, a saddlemaker and leather merchant looking for a new business.

Hoover was so impressed with the vacuum cleaner that his wife purchased, he bought into Spangler’s business and patents, becoming the president of the Electric Suction Sweeper Company. Hoover renamed the firm the Hoover Company in 1922. Spangler stayed on as the superintendent.

Key achievements

  1. Spangler was also granted a patent on a grain harvester in 1887, after adding a few improvements to it.
  2. Spangler was granted another patent for the velocipede wagon. He claimed as new “the combination of the body or box, mounted upon traveling wheels”.
  3. Spangler was working as a janitor aged 60 and suffering from asthma when he revolutionised the Hoover.

Lessons for your store

  1. Never underestimate the profitability of an idea – Spangler’s invention went on to be a household bestseller.
  2. There’s always a solution to your problems – even if you have to invent something for yourself.
  3. Failure makes you learn – Spangler set up a company for his patented grain harvester, which failed.