THE LEWYT MODEL 44

 
Quite frequently, I get emails from people who have found a friend's or a relative's old vacuum cleaner. Sometimes, the writer is merely interested to know if the machine has any value.

Without a doubt, the most remarkable and exciting incident of this sort happened when one day I got an email, out of the blue, from a very nice person I'll call "Jane." (All names in this story are changed to protect people's privacy.) The following excerpts from our email exchanges pretty well tell the story.

 

 

 

Subject: Lewyt Vacuum
Date: Mon, 23 Apr 2001
From: Jane R----------
To: contact137at1377731.com

Hello, my name is Jane R----------. I was recently at my parents' house and saw a vinyl covered box in their garage that they were going to throw away. I went over to the box to first study it to see if I could do something with it (renovate or something) and opened the box and found a vacuum within. I was amazed at this and told them not to throw this away, that I would take it when I had a car that I could put it in.

I have since discussed this vacuum over the phone and found out several things. The first is that it is a Lewyt vacuum (that is what my father said, I have yet to make sure that this is the correct spelling), and that he had sold them door to door after WWII. I hate to see this part of history just thrown away and was wondering if you had any suggestions of any one that would be interested in such a treasure.

--Jane

 

 

 

From: Charles Richard Lester
To: Jane R--------------

Hi Jane, life dishes out some funny coincidences sometimes. Coincidentally, just this morning I got a call from a local "vac shop" who calls me whenever someone brings in something old to trade in and he passes those things on to me instead of just throwing them out as he used to!

He called today and told me that a lady had brought in a set of old accessories for a Lewyt sweeper!! He said they were brand new, and she had just brought them into him because she didn't want to just throw them out. So he has given them to me.

And then here you come, writing about an old Lewyt!!

If it was the model sold just after the war, I think I can describe it to you--- A sort of "pot," with no wheels, that is gray "wrinkled" paint finish with a gray hose that has a red criss/cross pattern.

I do not have any Lewyt machines and would love to have one. So yes, your "treasure" can have a new and happy home, and would be in good company in my collection of vintage vacuums.

Thanks for writing —this has really made my day especially with the serendipity around getting the Lewyt attachments from the vac shop! :)

Oh, p.s.: How long did your father sell Lewyts? I would love to hear some of his stories about selling them. The almost mythic lore of the door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman is as interesting to me as the machines are, especially in today's day and age when neighborhood salesmanship is a thing of the past except maybe in some very rural areas where people don't "get into town" to buy stuff. I really enjoy talking to people who sold sweepers in the '40s and '50s.

--Charlie

 

 

 

Charlie, My Dad's name is Vince B----. I sent him your last email so he would be familiar with who you are and such.

--Jane

 

 

 

Hi Jane,

Thanks, I will email you dad.

btw I went and picked up the Lewyt attachments that Ron, the vac shop guy, called about. The items, brand-new and never used, include a glass spray jar and an insect-erradicator with the florid name of "Snufficator" ! Ron was as amazed as I was over the curious timing around this little Lewyt adventure!

 

 

 

From: Jane---

Charlie,

I am glad that you are excited about the Lewyt. I hope to have this sent to you within the next several days.

Please enjoy, and take care of it. It does hold some memories for me, and I know that you will treasure those.

Jane

 

 

 

Subject: Do It With Lewyt!
Date: Mon, 23 APR 2001
From: Charles Richard Lester
To: Vince B-------

Dear Mr. B----------

I got your name and email address from your daughter Jane, who is about to send me an old Lewyt sweeper she found in a little hamper in your garage.

She told me that you were a Lewyt salesman after WWII. If you feel like "spinning some yarns" from the good old days of sweeper selling, well, I am all ears. I'd love to hear all about how you got into selling them, how long, etc etc etc ... any disaster stories e.g. people with no electricity etc??!

I collect vintage vacuum cleaners as a hobby. I have about 30 or 40 of them. If you think =I= am nuts, you ought to hear about some of the people I know who have HUNDREDS of them!!

This will be my one and only Lewyt actually. I have had one or two come and go over the years but they were either in poor shape or someone else really wanted them so off they went. This one, I will keep. I am sorry now that I did not keep any other others.

I do have a special niche in my collection of cleaners that people have sent to me out of the kindness of their heart and because they felt some sentimental attachment to their machine and didn't want to just chuck it out. I have about a half-dozen or so machines in my "Home for Wayward Vacuums" !!

Cheers---

Charles Richard Lester

 

 

 

Subject: Re: Do It With Lewyt!
Date: Tue, 24 APR 2001
From: Vince B----------
To: contact137at1377731.com

Dear Mr. Lester: The story regarding the Lewyt that Jane mentioned to you is this: After WWII, I returned to my hometown of G---n, Nebr., I returned to work with my Uncle who had a small Chevrolet Agency. After having been in the South Pacific I was all gung ho to get back into civilian life. The only problem I found was that we could not get new Chevrolets. This was in late 1946.

So to make my mark, I started looking for other items to sell. With my Uncle's permission, I purchased, through Phillips 66, a truck load of Lewyt Vacs. I started selling them out of the agency. At that time REA was starting to provide electricity to the rural area of Nebraska and Kansas.

As I remember it, it took me over two years to sell all 120 Lewyt Vacs, and when we started getting new cars to sell, I used some of the remainder of the Lewyt's as a incentive used car buyers. It was no problem selling new cars, but a problem selling older used cars.

The Lewyt you are about to receive was sold to one of my Sisters-In-Law. She took very good care of it. When she passed on in 1990, we brought it home. I had not looked at it until I was cleaning out a storage area in the basement. We asked Jane if she wanted it. She said she was short of storage space, but for me not to get rid or it. So that is the story of this particular Lewyt. We hope that it fits into your collection.

Best regards. V------ B

 

 

 

Hi again Jane,

I =am= quite elated to be receiving this sweeper. The Lewyt was a nice little machine.

I do very much admire and appreciate your kindheartedness and sentimental streak. Not just anyone would be willing to do something as kind and touching as to send an old sweeper to somebody they don't even know. I can tell you are a very special person.

You probably have already come to understand that I really am quite a nut! A sweet and harmless nut, but a nut nonetheless!

When I was a little kid, we would often go to visit people from our church. (My dad was a pastor at that time.) The first place I would head for was to look for their vacuum. That was kinda cute when I was age five; now at age FORTY-five I am not sure how "cute" it would look for me to go snooping through people's closets to look for sweepers, so I do resist the temptation... although it IS tempting to peek, sometimes!!

 

 

 

Charlie,

Thank you for your email. I do just want the Lewyt to go to someone who wants it, not into the dump where its history will be lost.

I guess I must also be honest to say that I did not share the same interest in vacuums as you do. I always saw them as a tool for something that I didn't care about - I would have rather been in the garage watching and admiring the "men" tools. I guess that God forgot to put the domestic bone in my body, so vacuums were a reminder of how much I disliked the role that women were suppose to play in life.

So I didn't pay attention to people vacuuming - that was a sign that I needed to bolt out the door. But I do remember the various older vacuum styles from the canisters to the uprights, from the old Hoovers to the old Kirbys. But my parents who do have that domestic bone probably do have greater memories than I. And yes, we are probably around the same age - I am 45, soon to turn 46.

I think it is wonderful that you are following your passion of life - a passion that started when you were young. That is what I call following your heart, listening to your song.

I remember being marveled at this little treasure when I opened this vinyl covered box. I can tell you that my Aunt did take very good care of her stuff (much better than I do - but then hey, any domestic tool is at risk in my house for abuse).

Jane

 

 

 

From: Jane

Charlie,

Okay it is on its way. I think you are going to be so excited. I will briefly explain it - I took a few notes before I sent it. It is a mottled gray canister with a gray hose with red woven in. The hose is in very good condition. All of the attachments are there in their original box, including the moth snuffacator (what a name).

Also included is the instruction manual including the statement on the front of "Do It with Lewyt". There is also a letter of congratulations for purchasing and a questionnaire from the company and return envelope. All of this is within a vinyl covered box called the Lewyt Treasure Chest - claiming that it is moth proof. All of the labels are inside of the box. It is really cool.

Oh, almost forgot - there is also a large envelope with vacuum filters (or at least that is what it says and I didn't want to mess up the clasp for you on the envelope so didn't open it).

Also within the attachment box was a brush - appears to be a broken hair brush - probably something my aunt used to clean the brushes - but not sure if it was part of the system or not - so included it - you can through it away if you don't want it.

By the way my Aunt's name who is belonged to was Melody K------ - she lived in C-----, Nebraska. Not that this matters but for history - she was from a family of 14 kids, and she was a twin. She was married but never had any children (hey, good thing, the kids probably would have destroyed the vacuum).

Let me know what you think of this neat surprise and also when it gets there what you think. I am sure you are going to be like a kid in a candy shop.

Jane

 

 

 

To Vince B---------
From Charles Richard Lester Dear Mr. B-------- Thanks for the very fascinating story!! What a clever idea, to throw in a vacuum cleaner to help sell used cars.

I did not know that people could buy big lots of stuff (presumably wholesale) through Phillips 66. How did that work? I mean, that is a gasoline company isn't it? I thought Lewyts were sold door-to-door.

Thanks again for the story, and thanks again for being willing to let your sister's Lewyt travel west to a new home in sunny Southern California!

Cheers--

Charlie L.

 

 

 

From: Vince B----------

Mr. Lester: Being a Chevrolet Agency in a small town (1140 pop), we also had a gas station. Phillips offered opportunities to buy and sell various products. In fact, I also ordered and received a partial train boxcar load of Servel Kerosene Refrigerators, some 30 if I remember correctly. I sold, delivered and set up these refrigerators in a 100 mile radius of our small town, T------n.

The need and demand was there as some of this area did not have electricity and would not have it available for from 7 to 10 years. Hey, we did what was necessary to make a living and to keep our business operational. We also operated a small, short order cafe, adjacent to our agency/gas station.

What fun, until we burned out and decided that there was an easier way to make a living. We sold the Chevrolet Agency and built a new motel, operating it for 4 years before selling it. We then moved to the Denver, CO. area and have been in various phases of the real estate business since then.

Best regards
Vince

 

 

 

Hi Jane--

Yes, this really is *quite* exciting!!! It's one thing to find a cleaner this old, but to find one in a "treasure chest..." well, what more could a silly sweeper nut hope for!

I have looked through my advertisement archives and found a couple of ads and stuff that I thought you might get a kick out of and have attached scans of them.

I have received another very fascinating email from your father about how he came to sell Lewyts. What an interesting glimpse into history this all is, and how much business has changed in 60 years. Can you imagine going to the car dealer to look at cars, and end up coming home with a new car AND a new vacuum cleaner?!

You said in your last email, "I guess I must also be honest to say that I did not share the same interest in vacuums as you do. I always saw them as a tool for something that didn't care about--"

Right., That nearly always is the case. In the Vacuum Cleaner Collectors Club (yes, there actually is such a thing!), there are over 100 members. Only one of them is a woman. There used to be another female member, a retired woman who had sold several makes of vacuum cleaners in her day, including Lewyt once upon a time I believe. And you have hit the reason for that right on the head I think.

To women — especially "housewives" from the '60s and earlier when housewives really were housewives — vacuum cleaners did represent work -- household drudgery. Most women I remember using sweepers really seemed to hate it. They considered vacuum cleaners dirty, vile, nasty, smelly things. And they usually were.

However, to the man of the house, the vacuum cleaner was a mechanical thing -- something he paid good money for and was interested in the way it worked. This was especially true for machines like the Kirby that could be transformed into a dozen different appliances.

And I think that that sociological/gender split in the way vacuum cleaners are viewed has also affected the people who like to collect them. (Also, without exception, all the guys I know who have collections of old vacuum cleaners started getting interested in them from their very early childhood.)

For me, anyway, it was not the task of vacuuming, per se, that was appealing; it was the SOUND of the machinery usually, and the mechanical nature of it. I was utterly entranced by the drone of a vacuum cleaner, and the ones that had spinning or revolving parts such as uprights with beater bars, or rotating floor polishers.... well those things just sent me into an altered state!!

You said, "So I didn't pay attention to people vacuuming - that was a sign that I needed to bolt out the door. "

Heh heh heh ... and for me, that was sign to COME RUNNING!! All I needed to hear was the whine of a vacuum cleaner and I was right there!!

 

 

 

Charlie,

The brochures came through great. How fun it is to see things from early times. I think that you will have some more pictures with your prize coming to add to these. The thing I couldn't figure out, but then didn't spend time to research as I was hopping around so fast to get things done, was the envelope with vacuum bags when it said it was bagless. Hmm, interesting.

Please let me know when you get it and what you think. I do believe that you will feeling like the kid who just had a birthday and is feeling so special.

It is really cool.

--Jane

 

 

 

POSTSCRIPT

The last exchange between "Jane" and I was on the phone when I received the Lewyt. To say I was struck speechless (imagine that ... Mr. Blabby ... Speech-Less!!!) is an understatement. I believe the following photos will illustrate why I was so, so, BEYOND thrilled.

Just keep saying to yourself when you look at these, "These photos are of an appliance that is over 50 years old" ... "These photos are of an appliance that is over 50 years old" "These photos are of an appliance that is over 50 years old" ...

 

 

 


 


An odd-looking treasure chest, to be sure...

 


But a treasure chest, nonetheless!

 


Note the metal disc for moth crystals!

 


And THERE, indeed, is a rare treasure!

 


Original attachment case

 

 


 

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