The “500 Series”
Kirby Vacuum Cleaners

Here, to the best of my knowledge, is a very detailed description of Kirby models 505-562 (sold from 1945-1962) and the year of manufacture for each model.

This project will surely be an ongoing work-in-progress for a long time to come. The difficulty inherent in this research is that the various differences between this series of Kirbys are, overall, fairly minor other than the major design change which occurred with the 516.

Also, by this point in time, most extant models from the 500 series have been fixed, repaired and rebuilt so it's nearly impossible to figure out by studying the actual machines just what details are original and what are not. This is compounded by the fact that repairmen -- especially at the Kirby plant -- frequently would do several machines at a time. All the similar parts (handles, switches, etc.) would go into like piles, then when the housing components of completed machines were re-assembled after polishing it is very likely that original parts did not put back together, since they were readily interchangeable and different only from a "cosmetic" standpoint.

Furthermore, the Kirby instruction booklets are virtually useless in this regard inasmuch as photos were recycled from one model to the next, even when there were obvious differences in the machines!

As I uncover new details and facts that do not correlate with the information here, I will make updates accordingly. Already, I have made a number of changes which have been brought to my attention. At any rate, I hope you enjoy my scholarship and that this information will help you in restoring vintage Kirbys to their full and original glory!

Finally, this survey does address just the 500 series, mainly because I do not know very much about earlier and later machines. If anyone reading these pages would care to provide detailed information for the pre- and post-500 machines, I will be glad to add such informaton to this report to make it a complete and comprehensive history of the Kirby Company.

Meanwhile, here is a chart, complete to the best of my knowledge, of the pre-500 models. (A similar chart of post-500 models appears at the end of page three of this report.)

1906Unnamed hand-powered centrifugal pump canister-type machine
1906Unnamed electric-motor-driven centrifugal pump canister-type machine
1910"Frantz Premier" -- a/k/a "Domestic" -- electric-powered upright
1912Hand-powered "Grasshopper"
1919Vacuette Wireless [3-4 different models including the "Improved Vacuette"]
1925Vacuette Electric [at least two models]
1928Scott & Fetzer Sanitation System [at least two different models incl. one with on-off switch at the top of the handle]
1928Aer-Rotor (electric canister-type cleaner)
1935KIRBY Model R*
19??KIRBY Model 2R
19??KIRBY Model 3R
19??KIRBY Model 4R
19??KIRBY Model C
1939KIRBY Model 2C
19??KIRBY Model 3C
19??KIRBY Model 4C

*The R series is rather enigmatic to me. These models are not mentioned anywhere in any of the Kirby Company literature in my fairly substantial Kirby paper collection, other than some instruction booklets. (I have instruction booklets for 2R, 3R and 4R.)

I have a 2R machine in my collection, a very rare model with an on-off switch in the handle just below the wooden handle grip. The R series machines most definitely do appear to be older than the C series in several respects. First off, the model R does not have a headlight at all. Models 2-3-4R do have a headlight but the headlight housing is very bulbous-looking and not at all strealined as it is for the model C and thereafter.

However, in some Kirby literature the model C is given as the first to bear the Kirby name but I do highly doubt that as, again, the R series is much more primitive looking. Thus, I have accorded the first model R with the date of 1935 which is the date that does appear several times in Kirby literature as the first year that a "Kirby Kirby" was manufactured. I did find one reference to 1939 as being the year the 2C was introduced so that is duly noted.

UPDATE: I have been informed that the "R" series stood for "Retail" -- these models were sold in department stores and generally corresponded in design to the "C" series except that they all had handle-mounted on-off switches.












  Model 505 - 1945

The 505 was the first model with the new patented "Magic Finger" belt lifter instead of a non-functional, decorative cap. It was the second model with a black rubber handle grip. (Earlier models had black-painted wooden handle-grips.) The handle grip was rather ornate with finely scrolled lines and details, not just plain rubber. Middle (longest) section of handle plain - not ribbed - metal tube (and remained that way until the 517 or 518).

Black duvetyne bag (not corduroy as later) with gold and red lettering. Cursive Kirby logo in a circle, and a pair of stripes running down the bag from the left side of the circle and up to the top from the right side. Top of bag closed with a black metal clamp and covered with a black rubber cuff. Bag top connected to handle by "figure-8" type chain.

(Note: There was a single metal hook on the back side of the handle to attach both the bag and the cord.

Rug nozzle and light housing trim black rubber. Light housing trim only went around the front-most edge. Belt lifter black with red lettering in relief.

Black shiny rubber Belden cord with standard molded Belden plugs. Cord has metal clip to attach to handle. Clip attached to cord with rubber collar that slides freely along the cord.

Sani-emptor trap-door made of black "Phenolic" plastic. Black vulcanized rubber wheels, all four wheels the same size and width. (On earlier models, the rear wheels were narrower.) On a couple of 505s I have seen, there are washers behind the screws for the wheels that are painted matching red. I assume this was original as I have seen more than one 505 with them. A nice little touch.

Attachments -- hose black cloth with red and gold stripes, rubber "female" connectors on both ends, motor end with metal swiveling collar (new to 505). 505 introduced all-new black "Ethocel" plastic attachments instead of the earlier vulcanized fiber material. One long straight wand, one shorter curved wand, one very short straight wand that connected to hose. Black rubber dusting brush, black Ethocel bare floor brush, upholstery nozzle, crevice tool. Spray painter, metal blower coupler and metal suction coupler. De-mother attachment, black rubber "massage cup." Portable metal handle, plain metal finish, with black shoulder strip, matching red/gold stripes. Felt "floor polisher" pad clip-on attachment for rug nozzle. (Ethocel was manufactured by Yardley Plastics of Columbus, Ohio, and by Carter Products Corp. of Cleveland, Ohio.) Separate motor-driven floor polisher in its own metal nozzle - a first to the 505 (earlier models, the floor polisher nozzle clamped onto the bottom of the rug nozzle in place of the carpet agitator)

Shipping carton dark maroon with dark green lettering.



(There were no models 506 or 507 -- 505 was sold for three years)



Model 508 - 1948

Color scheme completely redone -- gray rubber handle grip in same "ornate" style as 505. (This gray rubber handle grip is VERY hard to find. Apparently the rubber used was of an inferior type and it disintegrated over the years and most of the grips were replaced.)

New gray corduory bag with red and silver lettering in the same style and pattern as the 505; larger and more streamlined shape to bag. Cloth cuff over metal bag top instead of rubber, and bag top not as wide as 505. Bag top connects to handle with chrome-plated "ball-type" chain, with a circular wire-clip at the top end of the chain.

Dark gray ribbed Belden cord with Kirby logo on plug end. (Plug was a flat "lozenge" shape, with no molded cord clip.) Cord connects to handle by a metal clip that is attached to the cord with a molded rubber collar on the cord that is now stationary (does not move).

Rug nozzle and light housing trim gray rubber. Light housing trim in three pieces: One large section went around the front-most edge; then there were two smaller strips along each side that extended about half-way back.

Belt lifter red plastic with grayish-white lettering in relief. Same lettering style as 505.

Sani-Emptor trap-door gray "polystyrene" plastic. Same black vulcanized rubber wheels as 505, attached with large-headed screws with no washers.

Improved motor-driven floor polisher with radiating rows of tufted bristles instead of long, coiled Fuller brush strip.

Attachments -- hose gray with red and silver stripes, same connectors on both ends as 505. Wands smooth gray plastic. One long straight wand, one shorter curved wand, one very short straight wand that connected to hose. Gray rubber dusting brush, other attachments same as 505 except for gray color. Felt "floor polisher pad" now called "floor duster."

Shipping carton dark maroon with gray lettering.



(From here on out I will just note the subsequent changes made, that I know of)





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