The Compact Vacuum Cleaner

The story of the Compact Vacuum Cleaner began in 1937 when the company who manufactured the cleaner was founded as Interstate Engineering Corporation. Interstate Engineering designed and manufactured aircraft for the U.S. Government. In later years, they converted their operations completely over to consumer home cleaning and vacuum systems. The first Interstate Engineering manufacturing plant was located in El Segundo, California.

During the golden age after World War II — from the late 1940s into the late '60s — El Segundo and environs was home to a huge, booming aviation industry as well as companies that manufactured secret military aircraft and hardware such as Hughes, Rocketdyne, Boeing, and McDonnell-Douglas. And the area is the original location of the legendary Northrop company, manufacturer of, among other things, the Stealth Bomber. The Los Angeles Air Force Base Space and Missile Systems Center (a major military base of the United States Air Force) is also located in El Segundo.

Overall, the area has a rather creepy feeling about it. El Segundo is an idyllic-looking little rural town of about 16,500 people (12,300 of them Caucasians) right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It has all the trimmings — a tree-shaded main street lined with quaint restaurants and shops, a movie theatre that features silent films and concerts of ragtime music, a church on practically every corner. It is populated with nice, smiling people who wave and say hello to one another. It’s even the home of the Barbie Doll factory, the very epitome of all that is good and wholesome and All-American!

 
Except, that is, for the fact that it cowers directly in the shadow of a hideous-looking, smoke-belching, gargantuan-sized oil refinery.

 
The other end of town cuddles up against the back side of the Los Angeles International Airport, and is surrounded by heavy industry and abandoned aircraft factories.

The beach at El Segundo is nice and uncrowded, a great place for a sunbath as long as the thought of hydrocarbons (and God only knows what else) from the refinery leaching into the sand doesn’ t trouble you. El Segundo also hosts one of the world’s largest sewage treatment plants (hence a well-known nickname of the town, “Smell Segundo.”)

But I digress.

[I really did not intend this to turn into a disparagement of El Segundo. All in all, it's a nice little town and a fun place to visit. It’s just got some very scary and ugly neighbors.]

The Compact vacuums were originally made by the Interstate Engineering Corporation to clean Howard Hughes Corporation aircraft in the 1940's. The first Compact had two rear wheels and two front skids. It had a hose with several attachments so that custodians could easily clean under the seats and the overhead compartments. It was very likely women employees who cleaned the aircraft because Howard Hughes' Corporation employed many of the "Rosie The Riveters" that you've probably heard about working to support World War II.

  

The vacuum worked so well that they decided to sell it to the public. The transition was easy because they already had all of the cast and die equipment necessary to manufacture the metal parts for the machines. The first Compact was sold to the public in 1946.

The salesmen were doing so well selling the Compact door to door that the company made a spin off called the Revelation. The Revelations were only sold in retail stores from 1949-1954. The Compacts were only sold by salesmen. Interstate invented and owned patents on both of the machines.

 
Compact Vacuum Cleaners were among the prizes offered on the 1950s television game show “Queen for a Day.”

 
An amazingly whimsical offshoot of the Compact was the short-lived “Haleys Comet” (sic), a strange machine from another dimension that today is as scarce as hens' teeth! See The Haley's Comet.

 
Here’s another bit of Compact trivia, recently brought to my attention by one of my readers. In the 1997 sci-fi film Gattaca (starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law), vacuum cleaners feature very prominently in the plot — chrome-plated Revelations! Check it out:


In fact, vacuum cleaners of various types are mentioned or depicted SO MANY times, it almost seems like the story was written by one of us sweeper nuts!

But I digress... again.......

I.E.C. is no longer in business as such. The company moved around a couple of times, ending up at one point in Pennsylvania I believe, then was reorganized, sold off, etc. Now, two different companies are being run by relatives of the founders of the original company — Air Storm and Tristar. Both these machines resemble the Compact and owe their success to it. (Both are also incredibly overpriced, btw, at around $2,500.00!!)

  

Interstate Electronics was a sister company to Interstate Engineering Corporation. Interstate Electronics was incorporated by Interstate Aircraft (parent company to both I.E. and I.E.C.) in 1956; thus, they celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2006. Interstate Electronics rented space from Interstate Engineering in the beginning and did share some history with them.

(I'd like to thank Jack Wolf and Mary Ellen Little for contributing information to this site. Mr. Wolf's father, Lee Wolf, was a National Distributor for Compact for about ten years. He invented the Haley's Comet vacuum and left Interstate Engineering in the late 1960's. Ms. Little is an employee of Interstate Electronics Company and is the editor of the company newsletter.)

The Compact was a very well made machine and very powerful. Its cleaning ability would be hard for any other vacuum cleaner to surpass.

Following are some photos of the Compact Model 1.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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