C L E A N E R S

E I have been
fascinated with
vacuum cleaners.

When I was barely a toddler, I would sit on the floor and watch with riveted fascination whenever my parents would use their Electrolux, especially if they brought out the little air-powered floor polisher attachment that came with it. (That was a special, semi-annual treat that happened during spring- and fall-cleaning. To this day I can recall the delightful scent of the Johnson’s paste wax used with the polisher.) The first words I learned to write, at about age four, were “sweeper” and “waxer.”

One of my biggest thrills as a little boy was when neighbors would use their vacuum cleaners. All I had to do was hear one running at someone’s house, and I’d be off and down the street to watch; or, if it was a really lucky day, get to use their vacuum cleaner. I knew what type of machine there was in every house up and down the street, even at the age of four. Another big thrill was when the Electrolux man would arrive, making his rounds through the neighborhood. I remember wanting to be an “Electrolux man” when I grew up!

It was a very happy Christmas for me in 1960 when Santa brought me a toy vacuum cleaner — in my mother’s words, “Santa brought you your very own sweeper so you can stop pestering me to use mine!”

The only vacuum cleaner I did not like was my Aunt Dabney’s Kirby. It was a big, old scary thing with a huge bag that puffed up and a shiny searchlight that lit up the whole room. It made a terrific roar — scary stuff even for a vacuum-cleaner-obsessed four-year-old! If she was vacuuming when I went over there, I would keep a safe distance on the front porch and watch her through the screen door.

My parents kept hoping I would outgrow this "strange obsession" but I never did. To the contrary, the older I got, the more fascinated I became with them. What had initially been an interest just in the machines themselves branched into an interest in the history of advertising and industrial design; I came to appreciate HOW vacuum cleaners came to be and how they looked, as much as I was interested in the actual machines.

As a kid, I got so much teasing and ridiculing about it when I was a kid that I finally just kept quiet about it. I really got tired of people thinking there was something wrong with me, so I just didn't tell anyone about it.

The response I hated the most, and that hurt the most, was when I would tell someone I like vintage and antique vacuum cleaners, and they would just stare blankly at me and ask, "Why?" As if to say, "Why would you have such interest in something so banal and unimportant?"

So even into adulthood, even as I had acquired quite a few old vacuum cleaners, I continued to keep quiet about it.


Stan Kann, the Gadget Man

But then one day in 1990, a new friend came to my apartment for coffee. When he walked into my living room he noticed there were a few antique vacuum cleaners sitting around. He exclaimed, “I don’t believe it!

I asked, "Don't believe WHAT?

He said, Here's another nut with a house-full of old sweepers!”

I said, astonished, “What do you mean, another nut?!”

He replied, “I can’t believe you’ve never heard of Stan Kann, that zany guy who’s been on the Carson show a bunch of times with his gadgets and antique vacuum cleaners that never work! He’s the organist at my church.”

I couldn’t believe my ears! Another person on this planet who not only is interested in vacuums but who is also a church organist, like me. I was very anxious to meet him. My friend didn’t know Stan’s number but thought it was in the phone book.

The next day I looked up his telephone number. I phoned him and introduced myself by saying, “Mr. Kann, my name is Charles Richard Lester. You don’t know me, but I am calling because we have something in common.”

“What’s that?” came the vaguely suspicious reply.

“I have here in my living room a 1937 Electrolux Model XXX, a 1925 Scott and Fetzer Sanitation System, and a 1937 Hoover Model 150 vacuum cleaner.” In his inimitable way, he asked, “Well, what are you doing with all that stuff!?” He was quite surprised to hear from me, and we talked for a long time that first day. He told me about three other people (all in other parts of the country) he knew who also collected vacuum cleaners, and gave me their names and phone numbers. (More on them later.)

Stan and I have become good friends since that time. We have a rarely-missed, standing Wednesday night coffee date where we talk about vacuum cleaners and pipe organs and theremins. I consider myself very lucky and fortunate to have met him and to have him as a friend.

Stan has a suit made of vintage Vacuum Cleaner bags! This was made for him by a friend back in St. Louis in the early 1960s. Stan has worn this suit on the Tonight Show and other TV guest appearances:

I interviewed Stan for a special issue of the Vacuum Cleaner Collectors’ Club News. Some of the antics he regaled about his childhood sweeper adventures had me on the floor! If you’d like to laugh yourself silly, then read A Visit With Stan Kann.


But Wait ... There’s More!

Since meeting Stan, I have made friends with a number of other vacuum cleaner collectors. We have an official, if small and somewhat loosely knit, collector’s club of about 40 members that we named "The Vacuum Cleaner Collectors Club." The Club was actually founded in 1982, but had fallen into dormancy. Then when I came onto the scene and met the founding members, I persuaded them to get the club going again. We now have an annual meeting somewhere in the U.S., the venue being at one of the member’s homes. We’ve also had a fantastic meeting at the Hoover Company headquarters in Canton, Ohio, where they have an excellent vacuum cleaner museum in the Hoover Historical Center, as well as at several other vacuum cleaner manufacturing plants. If you’d like more information on joining the Club, visit the Club's web site at http://www.vaccc.com and go to the "Want to Join?" page.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about all this is that every single one of us club members, from the youngest at about age 16, to the eldest, an nonagenarian vacuum serviceman in the Midwest, all share nearly identical childhood stories — that is, that we all have been fascinated with vacuum cleaners from as far back as we can remember.

We amuse one another with our stories of going to people's houses and making a beeline for the vacuum cleaner, and we commiserate with one another's heartaches about being teased and ridiculed for this "strange behavior."

Who knows what this is all about?! All I can say is, I am glad I have this unique — and, perhaps, to some, strange — hobby! It has brought me some very cherished and close friends, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I now have about 137 vacuum cleaners in my collection, give or take 7 or 13 (...!) — in varying conditions from mint to pathetic. It’s a little hard to have this many in my two-bedroom apartment; half of my office doubles as my vacuum cleaner room. I’m hoping to one day have a large-enough house where I can have a special room devoted to my collection, with an adjoining workshop for repairs and restoration.

My collection ranges from 1905 (a non-electric, hand-pumped Regina Model “A” which requires two people to operate) to 1960 where my interest, from a collector’s perspective, ends. Most of my machines are from 1940-56, my favorite era, although I do also have many beautiful machines from the 1920s and early ’30s, the Art Deco Era; and the Machine Age, the late 1930s. I do not really collect very early electric machines or even earlier non-electric types although some club members specialize in these types of cleaners.

I have constructed a “cyber museum” featuring some examples from my collection. Wanna visit? Admission is free, and no reservations are required! Just show up at the Cyberspace Vacuum Cleaner Museum and feast your eyes on some beautiful examples of vintage vacuum cleaners! I alao have two special wings in my Cyberspace Vacuum Cleaner Museum devoted to two other collectors, featuring The Galaasen/Nebelung Collection andThe Paul Linnell Collection.

In My
Web Site
In addition to the Cyberspace Vacuum Cleaner Museum, I also have many other pages on my site. If you will go to my main web site portal at http://www.1377731.com, and scroll down to the section entitled "Things that go vrrrrrrooo in the Night," you will see a list of these pages. I'm always adding something or another so be sure to check back from time to time.




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