The

Vacuum Cleaner
 

The beautiful, streamlined, futuristic-looking MODERN HYGIENE vacuum cleaner was sold by the Modern Hygiene Corporation of Boston, Massachusetts. The model featured in this web site was introduced in 1948.

The machine was actually manufactured by the P.A. Geier Company of Cleveland, who manufactured their own line of Royal vacuum cleaners as well as various private-label machines and machines for other companies including all the Health-Mor uprights and all the Filter Queens until 1952 (all model 200 and early 350's) for Health-Mor, Inc. who did not do their own manufacturing at that time. (Thanks to Clay Floyd for this information.)

 

 
BROOKS STEVENS

The Modern Hygiene cleaner's housing and aesthetic details were designed by noted industrial designer Brooks Stevens. A Modern Hygiene cleaner was featured in the Milwaukee Art Museum's recent hit retrospective, "Industrial Strength Design: Brooks Stevens." The exhibit's curators found the machine on eBay!

Stevens' pioneering works were comprised of domestic appliances created around the period just following World War II. In those days, it was his primary goal to create "clever gadgets [that] could alleviate the drudgery of domestic work and clever styling that would attract the female consumers." Electric irons, clothes dryers, refrigerators and vacuum cleaners were among such gadgets, including the "Toastalator" automatic toaster (mid 1940s), the Productimeter counting machine (1938), a Moe Brothers hand-held heat lamp (early 1930s), a plastic Coronado radio (1950), a Sears "Screamer" bicycle (1969), the Steam-o-matic hand irons, and the Edmilton Petipoint clothes iron (1941). The latter is seen as an iconic example of the streamlined style, with sleek cooling vents, upswept tail and contoured body.

 

Original design rendering by Brooks Stevens.
Image provided by Milwaukee Art Museum - copyright ©2005.
All rights reserved. Used by special arrangement.

 

Interestingly, a study of Stevens' works discloses that the products he designed usually did little to improve efficiency, which reveals the true role of the industrial designer during his time — charming the consumer into believing a product has been improved through styling. In 1959, Stevens was quoted as saying, "An industrial designer in today's business world should be a business man, an engineer and a stylist, and in that direct order." This, in fact, is one of the strongest points that is made clear in Stevens' work: the introduction and success of the streamlined product on the consumer market during that post WWII era.

The Weinermobile!

Stevens also created the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. "There's nothing more aerodynamic than a wiener," Stevens once remarked when asked about his most endearing design, the Wienermobile. While he did not originate the promotional vehicle — the Oscar Mayer Company of Madison, Wisconsin, came up with the idea in 1936 — Stevens did create the classic shape of the famous frank when commissioned to redesign it in 1958. His main contribution, as he put it, "was to put the wiener in the bun." Previously the vehicle had been a low, inelegant truck with a giant hot dog riding atop it. Taking advantage of the possibilities of molded fiberglass construction, Stevens transformed the lower section into the sculptural form that it is today.

Planned Obsolescence

Another of Stevens' many "claims to fame" was to coin the phrase "planned obsolescence." in 1954. Stevens was due to give a talk at an advertising conference. Without giving it much thought, he used the term as the title of his talk. From that point on, "Planned Obsolescence" became Stevens' catchphrase.

The official definition he came up with was "Instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary." It became something that he would be repeating for the rest of his career, and he took nearly every opportunity to present his philosophy. The idea was not that there was anything wrong with the old model, but that the new one was more desirable. For example, in 1966, in one of Stevens' talks, he said: "When I design a 1961 model car I am not styling it for the man who bought one in 1960, I'm styling it for the man next door who didn't buy it when his neighbor did."

By the late 1950s, Planned Obsolescence had become a commonly used term that people understood, although it wasn't looked on favorably. In 1959, Volkswagen brought out an advertising campaign for their cars with the slogan "We do not believe in planned obsolescence. We don't change a car for the sake of change."

In 1960, pop culture critic Vance Packard published a book called The Waste Makers. In it, Packard criticized Stevens for having a sinister strategy behind his theory of planned obsolescence. He said that the approach behind planned obsolescence was to make the product "old-fashioned, conspicuously non-modern."

In other words, he said that Stevens was brainwashing the customers into believing that the old product they owned was no longer good enough — now that there was an updated, modern and more desirable version available. He also said that Stevens was designing products deliberately so that they'd wear our or break in the future: The consumer would be forced to buy another one and keep Stevens in business. Stevens had never intended his definition to be interpreted in this way, and he found himself having to defend himself against Packard's definition of functional obsolescence.

One of Vance Packard's criticisms of planned obsolescence was related to an ethical principle. He believed that manipulating a customer into buying a new product before the old one had come to the end of its life was fueling wastefulness. However, Stevens was not taken aback by Packard's harsh denunciations of his design philosophy. He dismissed Packard's book as a scare-headline book. He also believed that all publicity was good publicity, so he was unfazed by Packard's objections and in fact enjoyed the infamy!

Those who want to know more about Brooks Stevens should get the book Industrial Strength Design: How Brook Stevens shaped your world by Glenn Adamson (2003).

 


 

MY MODERN HYGIENE

I have had a Modern Hygiene machine in my collection, complete with all the original attachments and woven cloth hose, for many years. It has languished in unrestored condition along with a display of other tank and canister vacuum cleaners whose designs were inspired by "rocket ships, flying saucers, and atomic bombs." I finally was inspired to take on a full restoration of the machine, and the results are the subject of this web site. Enjoy!

 


 

Before restoration

 


Before restoration - another view

 


Front cover before machine-buffing

 


Front cover after buffing

 


After restoration

 

After restoration - another view

 

After restoration - another view

 

After restoration - another view

 

The complete ensemble  



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