It was 1927 when Hoover introduced the first handheld vacuum, called The Pixie.

Not exactly extremely convenient, with its metal motorized base on sled runners attached to a heavy tapestry designed fabric bag with a power cord exiting from the rear. But, it was certainly better than anything else designed in the past.

Nearly 50 years later, it was the folks at Black & Decker who just happened to hit upon an instant success to take the household cleaning tool industry by storm.

And now, an original model of the Black & Decker DustBuster, as of 1995, is a permanent part of the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., right next to one of Thomas Edison's first light bulbs and Alexander Graham Bell's first telephones in the National Museum of American History wing.

Our syndicated Household Hints columnist Heloise might even marvel at how it all began, especially given the fact that the DustBuster is celebrating its 30th birthday.

It's an interesting story about how such a simple idea could accidentally become a part of housekeeping history.

In 1975, Black & Decker created a grouping of "cordless" and "handy" power tools designed to be convenient in garages and home and work bench shop areas. The group of tools, sold as the Mod 4 System, included a chargeable table saw, hedge trimmer, power drill and miniature vacuum (with the addition of a bonus chargeable flashlight), all created to share the same "interchangeable" chargeable handles.

According to Black & Decker publicist David Olsen, while husbands embraced the selection of tools included in the set, wives were drawn to the idea of the practical possibilities of the small hand-held vacuum, which was originally included in the set "just for cleaning up sawdust."

As further research showed growing numbers of women using the mini vacuum component as a convenient alternative inside homes for quick sweeping tasks as opposed to dragging out upright full-size vacuums with hose attachments, brains at Black & Decker began developing a great idea.

"After realizing the potential, Black & Decker got to work on a specialized hand vac for the home, with the ideal that this new vac should look and function like a dust pan, quickly collecting dust and debris for easy emptying," Olsen said.

With prototypes in hand, the company's development team began researching possibilities while testing units intended for kitchen use with focus groups. The response was overwhelmingly positive and the product line received the green light for full development.

Designed by Carroll Gantz, while he was manager of the Black & Decker U.S. Consumer Power Tool Division's Industrial Design Department, the DustBuster was officially unveiled at the Chicago Hardware Show for the holiday season of 1978, with it being chosen "Best New Product" by show judges and trade media.

However, sales of DustBusters officially began in January 1979 and by the next month, sales already pointed to mounting sales and a glimpse to the future about the 1 million DustBusters that would be sold by the end of the first year. The product marked the highest first-year sales of any product in Black & Decker history, four times that of the traditional hand-held vac market. Competitors soon flooded the market with dozens of imitations, a number of which were successfully litigated against by Black & Decker lawyers because of a design patent covering its unique appearance and configuration.

This created an entirely new household product business for Black & Decker, enabling them to purchase General Electric's entire Bridgeport, Conn. based housewares business by 1984 with Gantz continuing to head the entire division as director of design.

By 1985, the hand-held market was 6 to 7 million units annually, 90 percent of which was cordless and 85 percent of that was Black & Decker.

And by 1987, the company's annual sales were $1.791 billion, five times what they had been in 1972.

For more information and a complete history timeline of the product and its various incarnations over the decades, visit blackanddecker.com/dustbuster/.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or 219.852.4327.

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