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Classic Ideas: The Vacuum Cleaner

The vacuum cleaner dates back to the mid-19th century, when Melville Bissell, a furniture dealer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, invented the carpet sweeper to help his wife clean their store. Bissell's carpet sweeper was a simple, hand-powered device that used a rotating brush to sweep dirt and debris off of carpets.

However, it was not until the late 19th century that the vacuum cleaner, as we know it today, was invented. James Spangler, a janitor from Ohio, is credited with inventing the first practical vacuum cleaner in 1907. Spangler's vacuum cleaner was powered by a small electric motor and used a bag to collect dirt and debris. Spangler was granted a patent for his invention, US Patent No. 889,823, on June 2, 1908, and it became the foundation for the development of future vacuum cleaners. However, Spangler was not an effective businessman and was unable to successfully market his invention. 

In 1908, Herbert Hoover, a cousin of Spangler's wife, bought the patent for Spangler's vacuum cleaner and founded the Hoover Company. The Hoover Company quickly became the leading manufacturer of vacuum cleaners and washing machines. A key improvement in their product was the use of a bag to collect dirt and debris, which made it easier to dispose of and replaced.

However, one of the main drawbacks of the bagged vacuum cleaner was that it struggled to effectively collect pet hair. In 1993, James Dyson, a British inventor, introduced the bagless vacuum cleaner, which used cyclonic separation to separate dirt and debris from the air. Dyson's invention revolutionized the vacuum cleaner industry and made him a billionaire. He was granted a patent for his cyclonic separation technology, US Patent No. 5,558,697 which has been widely adopted by other vacuum cleaner manufacturers.

Today, vacuum cleaners have come a long way from their humble beginnings as carpet sweepers. One challenge that many people still face with vacuum cleaners is cords getting tangled. In the future, this problem may be eliminated through the use of better battery technology or the use of inductive charging. Another possibility is the elimination of human involvement in the cleaning process altogether, as seen with the popular iRobot Roomba, which uses sensors and artificial intelligence to navigate and clean a room. Companies like iRobot and Neato have obtained numerous patents related to their technology, including patents for navigation systems, obstacle avoidance, and automatic docking and recharging.