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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Today in Brand History: Bissell


Early Bissell Carpet Sweeper
Early Bissell Carpet Sweeper (photo credit: www.michiganradio.org)

The Sweeping Success of Bissell: From Carpet Sweepers to Cleaning Empire

In 1876, the first carpet sweeper was patented by Melville Bissell of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This invention marked the beginning of the Bissell company; the success of this invention led to the founding of the Bissell Carpet Sweeper Manufacturing Company. The company was established in the same year as the patent, 1876.

The Birth of Bissell: Melville Bissell's Vision

Melville Bissell was born on September 25, 1843, in Hartwick, New York, raised in a modest family. Prior to his invention of the carpet sweeper, Bissell worked as a crockery merchant, and later he and his wife, Anna Sutherland Bissell, operated a grocery and meat market in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was during this time that he noticed the difficulty of cleaning sawdust from the store's carpets, which inspired him to create a more efficient cleaning solution, ultimately leading to the invention of the carpet sweeper.

In the late 19th century, carpets were a common feature in American homes. However, keeping them clean was a laborious and time-consuming task. The prevalent method involved hanging the carpet outside and beating it to remove dust and dirt. This cumbersome process inspired Melville Bissell to find a more efficient solution.

Bissell Carpet Sweeper patent
Bissell Carpet Sweeper patent (photo credit: www.engines.egr.uh.edu)

The Carpet Sweeper Invention: A Clean Breakthrough

In 1876, Melville Bissell received a patent for his innovative carpet sweeper. This device was a mechanical wonder designed to simplify carpet cleaning. It consisted of a cylindrical brush with bristles that effectively captured dirt and debris, while a hand-cranked mechanism rotated the brush as users pushed it across their carpets. The collected dirt was then deposited into a removable container, eliminating the need for laborious shaking and beating.


Bissell's carpet sweeper was an instant hit among homemakers, offering a convenient and effective alternative to traditional cleaning methods. With its success, Melville and his wife, Anna, decided to establish the Bissell Carpet Sweeper Manufacturing Company. This marked the official founding of the Bissell brand.


Anna Bissell: A Pioneering Businesswoman

While Melville Bissell was the inventor, it's crucial to recognize the significant role played by his wife, Anna Bissell. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1846 and a school teacher before she met Melville, Anna was a trailblazer in her own right, becoming one of the first female CEOs in the United States. After Melville's untimely death in 1889, Anna took the reins of the company, making crucial decisions that would shape its future.


Under Anna's leadership, Bissell continued to innovate. In 1899, they introduced the first carpet shampooer, a groundbreaking invention that allowed users to both sweep and wash their carpets. This innovation demonstrated Bissell's commitment to making cleaning more efficient and thorough.


Expanding the Bissell Empire: Vacuum Cleaners and Beyond

As technology advanced, so did Bissell's product offerings. In 1907, they introduced their first vacuum cleaner, an electric-powered device that further simplified home cleaning. This marked a significant shift in the cleaning industry, as vacuum cleaners gradually became a staple in households across the nation. Anna also introduced progressive labor policies including a pension plan and workers compensation before these practices were widespread in industry.

Throughout the 20th century, Bissell continued to diversify its product line, introducing various cleaning solutions and appliances to cater to evolving consumer needs. They expanded beyond carpet cleaning, offering solutions for hardwood floors, upholstery, and more.

Early Bissell ads
Early Bissell ads (photo credit: www.bissell.com)

Did You Know?

  1. Bissell's First Product: While Bissell is best known for its carpet sweepers, the company's first product was not a sweeper but a croquet set. The success of the croquet set helped fund the development of the carpet sweeper.

  2. Early Innovations: Before creating the carpet sweeper, Melville Bissell had a background in machinery and designed his first machine at the age of 12. This early interest in mechanics and innovation laid the foundation for his future inventions.

  3. Queen Victoria's Approval: Bissell's carpet sweeper gained international recognition and was even endorsed by Queen Victoria of England. This royal endorsement helped solidify the product's reputation for quality and effectiveness.

  4. Anna Bissell's Legacy: Anna Bissell's remarkable leadership and contributions to the company's success made her a trailblazer in the business world, setting an example for future generations of women in leadership roles. However, it wasn't until 1972 when the Fortune 500 finally saw its first female CEO, when Katharine Graham took over the Washington Post.

  5. Bissell's Philanthropy: The Bissell family was known for their philanthropic efforts. They donated generously to various causes, including education and healthcare. Anna Bissell supported the construction of a hospital in Grand Rapids, which was later named the "Bissell Hospital" in their honor.


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