Reeves Vacuum Cleaner Company Suction Sweeper

This hand-powered vacuum cleaner, made for cleaning dirt from household carpets and floors, was one of many innovations introduced in the early years of the 20th century to bring greater cleanliness to the home. Manufactured by the Reeves Vacuum Cleaner Co., Milford, Conn., about 1910, it consists of two overlapping metal tubes with a suction nozzle attached to one end. On the other end is a wooden handle, which can be pumped up and down to create a vacuum in the tube to suck up dust. Rosa Weinstein of Washington, D.C., donated the sweeper to the Museum.
Household managers had other options as well. For most of the 19th century, housewives and servants routinely swept floors and carpets with corn brooms. Once or twice a year, household members would haul rugs out of doors and beat accumulated dust out of them with rug beaters. Many households continued these practices well into the 20th century.
Others turned to new methods, worried that sweeping simply dispersed dust through the air. The germ theory of disease came into wide acceptance late in the 19th century, and popular understanding of it often exaggerated the connection between dust and illness. Some households adopted carpet sweepers, such as the one patented by Melville Bissell in 1876, with adjustable brushes to gather the dust up as you go. Other innovations, like the Reeves vacuum, used vacuum power to capture dirt and dust. Portable electric vacuum cleaners became available early in the 20th century, but American homes only gradually became electrified, especially in rural areas, and not everyone chose the electric vacuum over alternative ways of cleaning. In 1950, when nearly every American home did have electricity, about fifty-one percent of those households owned an electric vacuum.
Currently not on view
Reeves Vacuum Cleaner Company
Place Made
United States: Connecticut, Milford
Physical Description
tin (overall material)
wood (handle material)
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Credit Line
Rosa Weinstein
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Domestic Life
Domestic Furnishings
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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