What I Don’t Want for Christmas, Part 2: A Vacuum Cleaner

"Don't disappoint her again this Christmas." Give her a Hoover Vacuum Cleaner. Hoover Ad, December 1924. Delineator magazine.

“Don’t disappoint her again this Christmas.” “Give her a Hoover.” Vacuum Cleaner Ad, December 1924. Delineator magazine.


December 1924 Hoover Advertisement. Delineator magazine.

December 1924 Hoover Advertisement. Delineator magazine.

OK, I realize that before vacuum cleaners became available, carrying the heavy rugs outside, hanging them on a washline, and beating them with tools until all the dirt and dust that had become embedded in the rugs transferred itself to your eyes, face, hair, sinus, clothes, etc., was a miserable experience.  But — if a woman really needs a vacuum cleaner, why should it be her Christmas present?

Surely it’s a necessary household expense, to be discussed and paid for from the family budget? This ad even spells it out — the “little woman” needs this tool: 1924 dec hoover ad TEXT brave little woman

Text of Dec. 1924 Hoover advertisement.

Text of Dec. 1924 Hoover advertisement.

The couple pictured in the ad is quite young; if they are newlyweds, I can imagine what happens not long after this embrace. She locks herself in the bedroom or bathroom for a good cry. A vacuum cleaner — reminder of drudgery — is not what you’d call a personal gift.

And, regardless of ads like this, vacuuming is not so effortless that the average woman would do it in a satin dress:

Hoveer Vacuum ad, November 1924. Delineator.

Hoover Vacuum ad, November 1924. Delineator.

I can see why men would think of the Hoover as a “big, important” gift:  A Hoover vacuum cleaner was an expensive purchase. The ads I’ve seen from 1924 never give the total purchase price, just the information that a Hoover can be “delivered to any home upon payment of only $6.25 down! Your Authorized Hoover Dealer will explain our easy purchase plan.” [In 1924 the average monthly income was less than $185.] 

I don’t have much doubt that the “Hoover for Christmas” ads were written by a man. (In Mad Women, Jane Maas, one of the first female advertising executives of the 1960s, reported that even ads for women’s products like sanitary napkins were always written by men.)

The Hoover company was still using the old “Give her a vacuum for Christmas” ad campaign in 1937:

"Hoover for Christmas" Ad, Woman's Home Companion, Dec. 1937.

“Give her a Hoover and you give her the best.” Christmas Ad, Woman’s Home Companion, Dec. 1937.


Hoover prices, 1937.

Hoover prices, 1937. Cleaning tools, not included, would add appreciably to the cost.

“The cleaner that nearly 700,000 husbands have given for Christmas.” And they don’t even have to gift wrap it — it’s “Wrapped in Cellophane”: WHC 1937 dec p 85 Hoover xmas ad cellophane text 500

“Gift Hoovers are delivered in gay Christmas wrappings to save your time. The Hoover man from your local store will call on you to help you choose the right model, explain the easy terms, and save you a shopping trip.  All you have to do is telephone the Hoover dealer in your town.”

This husband’s a hero! He didn’t ask his wife’s opinion — “The Hoover man” told him what “the brave little woman” would want in the way of brand and model, cleaning attachments, etc. How could she possibly have an opinion about the tool she was going to use? This was just between the guys, and the husband didn’t even have to visit a store! No shopping! Plus, the Hoover came wrapped in cellophane “to save [his] time.” And bingo, there’s the wife, on her knees, looking adoringly up at her hubby —  “Really, darling, you shouldn’t have.” No, really. He shouldn’t have.

I suppose there are many spousal gifts that could be more depressing (like an un-asked-for girdle, size XXXL) or more impersonal (like windshield wipers,) but if there is any spouse out there preparing to give his/her beloved a vacuum cleaner for Christmas, I suggest that it be accompanied by a gift that makes the recipient feel a little less like a worker bee and a little more like a queen.

In the twenties, a wife might appreciate a pretty robe, or some perfume, or some scented products for  a long, luxurious bath:

Ad for Fairy Soap, Delineator, November 1924.

Ad for Fairy Soap, Delineator, November 1924. [When I’m in England I can’t resist washing my dishes in “Fairy Liquid,” which I’ve never seen in the U.S.]

Getting lacy lingerie was always nice:

French chemise and drawers, (Butterick # 5567) and a Combination (Butterick # 4112), April 1924 delineator.

French chemise and drawers, (Butterick # 5567) and a Combination (Butterick # 4112), April 1925, Delineator.  [You can tell from the pattern numbers that the French Chemise was more up-to-date.]

[Shopping Tip:  If you don’t know whether the lady is a size Medium or a size Large, buy the Medium and keep the receipt.]

This stylish, animal print vanity case from Dorothy Gray was available for Christmas, 1928:

Dorothy Gray Vanity Case, December 1928. Ad from Delineator.

Dorothy Gray Vanity Case, December 1928. Ad from Delineator. Note the tube lipstick (rather than old-fashioned lip rouge) and the compartments for rouge, powder, mascara brush, etc.

I prefer to choose my own hats, but this one, made by Gage Brothers & Co. and featured in their 1925 catalog ad, is a real doozy!

Hat from Gage Brothers & Co. catalog; ad in Delineator. April 1925.

Hat from Gage Brothers & Co. catalog; ad from Delineator, April 1925.

And, if we’re talking hypothetical, only-possible-via-time-travel Christmas gifts, I would gladly receive any one of these Art Deco wrist watches from 1928.

Elgin Designer watches, December 1928. Delineator ad.

Elgin Designer watches, December 1928. Delineator ad.

But if I’m the one using the vacuum, I want to choose it myself.







Filed under 1920s, 1930s, Musings, Nightclothes and Robes, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Underthings, Hosiery, Corsets, etc, Vintage Accessories

8 responses to “What I Don’t Want for Christmas, Part 2: A Vacuum Cleaner

  1. Love the watches! I wouldn’t mind a robot as a gift, but I’d like the wrapping to be a little more elaborate.

  2. Renée Rotthier

    I’m surprised by how modern looking those hoovers from the 20’s are! Coincidentally, a few days ago I was browsing through a couple of Dutch magazines I have from 1941-43 and they had ads for those vacuum cleaners that look more like a mini version of an iron lung. They where indeed incredibly expensive! They where priced at 79,95 guilder (pre-euro Dutch currency), which in today’s money is €545 or $778!

    • We eventually (mid 1950s) got one of those long, all metal ‘iron lung”
      canister vacuums — an Electrolux. Metal was hard to get during
      Wartime — maybe that’s why they were so expensive. In America,
      manufacturers couldn’t even put metal underwires in their bras!

  3. Renée Rotthier

    Whoops that was supposed to be $678, not $778!

  4. The least a vacuum giving husband could do is give his wife a second gift of a “coupon book” for things like “one room of your choice vacuumed by your husband”. That ad forgot to draw the superhero cape on the husband, lol!

    My mom did get a vacuum for Christmas once, but that is exactly what she asked for. Household appliances should only be given as Christmas/birthday/anniversary gifts if they have been specifically requested!

  5. Nancy N

    Ok, I guess I’m just wierd, but maybe it’s because I don’t wear that much perfume. One of my fave Xmas gifts of all time was the expensive vacuum my mom gave me. No, I didn’t pick it out, but she was the uber cleaner of all time. Still have it… And no, I didn’t read it as a critique of my cleaning skills, tho with two young ‘uns, maybe I should’ve, LOL!

    • One of my favorite “vacuum” stories came from a co-worker who spent a holiday in Costa Rica at a game preserve. They lived in a tree house in the jungle, and meal-times were a problem because of the ants. They swarmed all over the food before she even finished preparing it, and they couldn’t be killed because it was a wildlife preserve. After a week, her mother joined them in their camp. When she arrived, they were unnerved to see her pull a small, re-chargeable vacuum cleaner out of her backpack. But at lunch, she vacuumed up the ants, set them free outside the house, and the wildlife-in-the-sandwich problem was solved! Mother did know best.

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