Energy Guzzler

How many electric appliances do you have at home? At the start of the 20th century most households had none at all. But this quickly changed...

Upright vacuum cleaner (1923) by Mij. tot vervaardiging van gasmeters in DordrechtNEMO Science Museum

The municipal energy company of Amsterdam instructed the Gasmeter Factory (Maatschappij tot vervaardiging van gasmeters) to develop a vacuum cleaner.

Production of Excelsior vacuum cleaners in the Gasmeter factory located on Lijnbaan (Dordrecht) (1920-01-01/1929-12-31) by H.J. Tollens and Regional Archive of DordrechtNEMO Science Museum

The factory, located in the city of Dordrecht in the Netherlands, started production of the Excelsior in 1923.

Upright vacuum cleaner (1923) by Mij. tot vervaardiging van gasmeters in DordrechtNEMO Science Museum

It was the first ever Dutch vacuum cleaner.

It proudly carries a badge declaring 'Nederlands Fabrikaat' (Made in the Netherlands).

The Excelsior was based on the design of a vacuum cleaner made by the Swedish company Electrolux.

Later, in the ’70s, the Dordrecht factory became part of this Swedish company.

The vacuum cleaner was soon given a nickname based on its charming shape: ‘the belly’.

The aluminium casing houses a dust bag, a fan and a motor.

The motor drives the disc-shaped fan. Its rotation sets air in motion.

The air flows out through the metal grid.

At the bottom, air is sucked in through the nozzle...

...bringing dust and dirt with it!

But... why did an energy company start developing
vacuum cleaners?

The company was not interested in hygiene...

...but it did have an interest in energy consumption!

From 1914 to 1918 the company offered free electricity connections and attractive rates in order to increase electricity consumption.

Soon, all houses in Amsterdam had electricity.
But it was used mainly for lighting, as most people had no other electrical appliances.

The energy company was keen to change this!

Advertisement for Excelsior vacuum cleaners (1923-12-01) by Dagblad De TelegraafNEMO Science Museum

To increase the use of electricity, the company started selling home appliances like the Excelsior vacuum cleaner.

Stand at an exhibition for the promotion of Excelsior vacuum cleaners produced by the Gasmeter factory. (1923-01-01/1927-12-31) by Regional Archive DordrechtNEMO Science Museum

At trade fairs the vacuum cleaner’s 'enormous suction power' was demonstrated by sucking up a steel ball.

The Excelsior was recommended as 'a magnificent vacuum cleaner, that sucks up the dirt from under your very feet'.

Upright vacuum cleaner (1923) by Mij. tot vervaardiging van gasmeters in DordrechtNEMO Science Museum

The price of the 'outstanding' Excelsior was 80 Dutch guilders (about 40 euros).

Rent-to-buy was possible too. In a vacuum cleaner-shaped piggy bank you would save up for the instalments, which were collected once a week.

The Excelsior became a success story, thanks to its affordable price and the low electricity rates.

By 1927, 30% of Amsterdam households owned a vacuum cleaner. With this growth in the number of appliances, the use of energy increased too.

Modern appliances are more energy-efficient, but each household has many more such appliances.

So these days energy companies don't have to worry about a lack of energy consumption!

Credits: Story

Object of the month – July 2020

Every month NEMO Science Museum shows one of the 19,000 unique objects in its collection: an item that was used in everyday life in days gone by and that shows how technology has changed over the course of time.

This story was created with thanks to the Stofzuigermuseum (Dutch Museum of vacuum cleaners), Jos Hattink, and the Regional Archive of Dordrecht.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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