“I often say that it seems almost as if this Western Electric Vacuum Cleaner had been designed by a woman, so carefully have those little points that only a woman would think of, been taken care of.
“But don’t think that the ‘man mechanics’ that mean proper engineering construction have been left out.
“Most women aren’t interested in machinery, as machinery (I know I’m not), but most men are. And that’s why I say again, ‘take a man along’ when you choose your cleaner.’”
This “helpful” advice was found in a full-page ad from the Western Electric Company, in the April 1920 issue of the Delineator magazine. The title of the ad (which is meant to read and look like an actual magazine article) is “Electrical Housekeeping – a department for homemakers. Edited by Mrs. June Strickland. Published and copyrighted by Western Electric Company”.
“Mrs. Strickland” apparently “spends a part of each day in a big New York Department store helping women to choose electrical appliances for the home. She believes that most women overlook the really important points because so few women have a knowledge of mechanics.” This text-filled ad also discusses details about the motor driven brush, the dust bag, suction power, and durability (presumably in a way even women can understand!)
This was far from the only ad for electric vacuum cleaners in this issue, however. And some of the ads are strikingly beautiful.
This is an ad for the Hamilton Beach Vacuum Cleaner, and shows a woman in a pretty purple dress effortlessly cleaning the rug (it looks like she even has her hand on her hip). So the vacuum must be very easy to use. The ad also mentions again the “motor-driven brush” that we heard about above in the Western Electric Company ad:
“This vacuum sweeper offers every cleaner virtue at a price that makes it more value for the money than any other. It is quality clear through, and it has the motor-driven brush.”
Next, we move on to another name that is still familiar to us today, the Hoover.
“Every rug is a constant collector of three kinds of dirt: embedded grit, clinging litter and surface dust. Three cleaning processes, therefore, are constantly necessary. Only The Hoover performs the three at once.”
Finally, we return back to Hamilton Beach for a final ad. This one is for the Hamilton Beach Carpet Washer.
This washer went way beyond what a mere vacuum cleaner could do:
“Below is a picture of a rug being washed! not merely being surface-cleaned, or beaten and swept, as by a vacuum sweeper – but being actually and thoroughly WASHED.”
Interestingly enough, we also return to a theme from the Western Electric ad at the top of this entry: the need for the man to get involved. In this case, though, the Hamilton Beach carpet washer was positioned as a great business opportunity – all you had to do was clean other’s carpets using the washer that you purchased – and it was possible to make from $30 to $50 dollars a day. The woman reading the ad was urged:
“Wives: Help your husband or son to financial independence. Show him this.”
Although truthfully, the ad goes on to advise:
“The Carpet Washer is so simple in operation that women, too, should seize this business opportunity.”
Regardless of how dated many of the ideas in these ads may be, it is important to realize that these appliances actually did help to change the quality of life for many women. The proportion of time spent cleaning the rugs and floors, as well as the ease as compared to previous methods of cleaning, must have made a big difference especially when combined with other electronic inventions of the time. For a look at some other vintage appliance ads, you can look at this section of the website.