Canton, Ohio: Hoover Historical Center

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I know my last post was presidential in nature, so just to clarify, this post is about Hoover as in vacuums, not the 31st president.  Little ol’ Canton isn’t only the former home of William McKinley, but is also where the first Hoover vacuum cleaners were manufactured.  The former home and workshop of “Boss” Hoover, family patriarch, have been preserved and turned into a museum of vacuums, which is free to look through via a guided tour.  I know I was just moaning about guided tours in my last post, but the Hoover tour was a different experience entirely.

Although their website says tours are only offered on the hour, when we arrived (at 40 past the hour), we were the only visitors, so the guide immediately came out and started to show us around.  The house is owned by Walsh University, and is used as a training site for their museums studies programme, so most of the guides are student interns, which means your experience may vary.  Our guide took a while to warm to the material, but had loosened up by the time we made it into the house.

The tour began in the old workshop, the first room of which was devoted to the leather tanning business, as Boss Hoover started out as a leather manufacturer.  It seemed to be a “cleaned-up” (literally) description of the process, as I’m fairly sure (on the basis of watching old episodes of The Worst Jobs in History with Tony Robinson) urine was involved at some point in tanning.  But no matter.  We quickly progressed to the back room, where the guide demonstrated some of the collection of non-electric vacuums.  He even allowed us to try one of the models out – it was a version operated by a skateboard-like device, which one person rocked back and forth on to power the suction, whilst the other person manoeuvred the hose.  It actually worked, and was fun to use…at least in the short term.  Probably more useful than a “Thighmaster” at any rate.

Following the vacuuming ( I won’t say hoovering, as the models in the workshop pre-dated Hoover), we moved into the Italianate farmhouse, where William H. Hoover (Boss’s son, and founder of Hoover Vacuums) was raised.  Here, we were provided with some history of the Hoover Company, and how they began making vacuums.  It started as a partnership between Hoover and an asthmatic man called Spangler who worked as a janitor in a local department store, and needed to devise a way to sweep without raising dust.  Even though the vacuum had obviously been invented some years before, Spangler’s was the first upright sweeper.  One of these new vacuums was subsequently bought by Susan Hoover, wife of Boss, who was so impressed with it she mentioned it to her son, who decided to buy Spangler’s patent, and go into the vacuum business.  Like the vacuum I described before, early models were incredibly unwieldy, and often required two people to operate them, so Hoover’s product marked a breakthrough in vacuum technology, and as electricity became more common, and prices therefore dropped, the Hoovers were well placed to reap the rewards.

The museum currently has an emphasis on the family life of the Hoovers, so the rooms (which were decorated in period fashion, though not one true to the original home) had various photographs and other knick-knacks lying around, which the guide made sure to point out to us.  The real focus here though, is of course the Hoover vacuums, and all the eras of vacuum technology were well-represented.  I learned (and heard!) that the earlier models were quieter than modern ones, because customers became suspicious that if the vacuum was too quiet, it wasn’t working properly, so they increased the noise to meet demand!  I was also intrigued by the connection between London and Canton – during WWII, workers in the Perivale factory were encouraged to send their children to Canton to keep them out of the Blitz, and a few of them stayed on after the war to complete their schooling in America.  I think the reason why vacuuming is called hoovering in Britain also dates to around this period – although Hoover had a factory in Britain from WWI, it took a while for it to flood the market and surpass the British brands; something which was also helped along by the entire range of Hoover appliances, from dishwashers to fridges (one of which survives in the kitchen).

Each room in the house was dedicated to a different decade/era, with appropriate models of Hoovers to illustrate, as well as informational signs and photos. There was even a small collection of Hoover toys, since children apparently love the motion of vacuuming.  After the old Victorian models, I think I liked the retro ones best (my grandparents had one from the ’60s or ’70s that is still functioning), even if the colours were rather hideous.

I honestly really enjoyed this tour, and I do love a good eclectic collection, and this one certainly meets that criterion.  The other guide working that day was a true Hoover enthusiast who chatted with us about some of his favourite models, and even told us about a secret Hoover factory outlet that sells cheap parts (unfortunately, like most other people in Britain, I don’t even have a Hoover, it’s a Miele!  Sorry!).  The only real issue, and this was more an issue for them than me, is that they don’t have an obvious donation box anywhere, or sell postcards or anything.  I think they should put one out, because I would have happily stuffed a few dollars in after the tour.  4/5

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