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The story of cleaning – a collection of images

No future without the past

MATISZ (the Hungarian Association of Cleaning Technologies) considers it important to contribute to the European and worldwide trend of exploring the cultural history of cleaning services.

Cleaning as an activity was first mentioned in the legend of Heracles. There’s a simple reason why it’s deemed a profession: Heracles did not want money for slaying monsters, but he did demand payment for mucking out the stables of Augeas. Thus, experience of millennia indicates that cleaning has never been a preferred activity of either men or demigods. We don’t know much about the tools used back then – legend has it that Heracles dug a trench with his club, channelling two rivers through the stables to clean out the undesirable residue accumulated over 30 years.

Mankind had to wait at least 2,000 years for the introduction of cleaning machines. So this tiresome manual work, often performed on all fours, has never been a popular task. In the beginning, various brooms were all that cleaners used. In ancient times and the Middle Ages, floors were sometimes washed, but without any dedicated tool and no detergent added to the water. Soap as a universal and widely available detergent appeared in the 19th century.

In the beginning of the last century, in 1907, the invention of portable electric vacuum cleaners ushered in the age of cleaning as an actual profession. That was when the first organisations appeared that offered alternatives to servants. Progress in the United States was continuous, but wars in Europe hampered any weak attempts. It’s only in the 1960s that recovery started.

Thus we have to look back to the past 150 years or so to examine the history, tools and initial culture of cleaning. In fact, the tool set used in household vs. professional cleaning diverged only 30-40 years ago.

The progress made in the past 150 years has been remarkable. Even though the vacuum cleaner patented in 1907 looks very similar to a current machine, they are lightyears apart in terms of features. Just think of the motor or the filter. Nevertheless, tools are still in use which have remained essentially unchanged for 100 years; just take the marine mop, patented in the 1850s and still sold in America.

A collection of drawings, blueprints, photos and advertisements from the past 150 years.

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