Atomic-Powered Vacuum Cleaners

Alex Lewyt, owner of the Lewyt Vacuum Corporation, has been mocked for his 1955 prediction that vacuum cleaners would one day be atomic-powered.

But he also predicted self-guided, robotic vacuums, and he was right about that.

Louisville Courier Journal - May 19, 1955

Albuquerque Tribune - Jun 7, 1955

Below: a 1950 ad for Lord Calvert whiskey that, for some reason, featured Alex Lewyt. Note the vacuum cleaner in the glass case behind him.

Life - Nov 27, 1950

     Posted By: Alex - Fri Aug 26, 2022
     Category: Atomic Power and Other Nuclear Matters | Appliances | 1950s | Yesterday’s Tomorrows

Ever since I bought it (I'm a bit of a gadget freak and will usually buy cheap mechanical oddities), I've been in awe of the "O-Cedar O-Duster Robotic Floor Cleaner" (you need that full name to get reliable hits on Google). You put an 11" round Swiffer-like pad on the bottom, and it spins as it crawls across the floor. When it hits an obstacle, it changes direction. Kind of a drunkards walk.

What amazes me it that, as far as I can tell, there are no electronics in it (apart from battery charging and a timer)! I've never had the nerve to take it apart, but it seems to work solely by the difference between the spin of the body and the turning of the wheels. When the body can't spin (because it's up against something), the axle of the wheels indexes ninety degrees. It'll work its way out from under coffee tables about half the time, and might do it more often if it ran more than a half-hour at a time.

It's too bad Lewyt, et al, went from the idea of embedded wires to conceptualizing computer control instead of taking a step back and making it mechanical.
Posted by Phideaux on 08/26/22 at 10:21 AM
@Phideaux - I think the problem is that a mechanical device would be very efficient at cleaning a clear floor, but would bounce itself out of those out-of-the-way nooks and crannies where the dust tends to gather. A computerised robovac can make a map of the floor and keep track of where it has, and more importantly has not, been. A mechanical one can't.

Still, at least a mechanical vacuum cleaner won't phone home to Apple, Google, Facebook or Microsoft. And certainly not to Amazon, may their newly bought Roombas vacuum Jeff Bezos himself!
Posted by Richard Bos on 08/27/22 at 11:02 AM
@Rishard -- Shortly after I bought mine, I built a new cabinet in my spare room. Even after sweeping, there was a layer of really fine sawdust. As a test, I turned my new little critter loose in there. Two cabinets, and the window and door sat in their own little niches, so there were a lot of corners and blinds. Had to run it four times because the cloth kept filling up, but the only spots it missed were small arcs in the corners it couldn't reach because it's round (any robovac would have the same issue).

It's not 'efficient' in the traditional sense because it crosses and recrosses the central area repeatedly, but considering it cost 1/10 of the cheapest computer-mapping robovac, it's definitely effective.
Posted by Phideaux on 08/27/22 at 12:25 PM
Easy to laugh at today, but back then, predictions abut “nuclear powered everything” were common, at a time when few people understood nuclear power.
Posted by Brian on 09/12/22 at 09:07 AM
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