By Richard K. Cacioppo, Sr. J.D
This year marks the centennial of the known invention of the swimming pool cleaner. These devices owe their evolution to imaginative tinkerers, engineers and designers from all over the world. Like swimming pools, there is almost certainly no single inventor or single swimming pool cleaner that has been recorded in history as the first such machine. However, by tracing key patent records, one can begin to appreciate how these devices, whether suction-side, pressure-side or robotic, developed into the popular swimming pool maintenance products they are today.
A cleaner timeline
Swimming pool cleaners, as the industry knows them now, evolved slowly from a combination of various machines, such as pumps, motors and rotating brush devices. The following timeline explains the progression.
Early inventions lead the way
The forerunners of today’s pool cleaners were cistern cleaners. In fact, though a patent was never issued, there are references to a cistern cleaner patent application being filed as early as 1798.
In 1884, however, a patent was finally issued for a ‘cistern and tank cleaner.’ Using a combination of suction and manipulation of water pressure, the device could sweep and scrape the bottom of a cistern or tank to separate and remove sediment without the need to remove any water.
Over the next 20 years, this invention was improved on numerous occasions. In fact, many pool cleaner patents issued in the modern era refer to some of the cistern cleaners as antecedent to the current invention.
Almost 30 years later, a ‘cleaning apparatus for swimming pools’ was designed to collect sediment from the bottoms of swimming tanks without the need to drain any water. A patent for this device was issued in 1912 to John M. Davidson of Pittsburgh, Penn., who rightly deserves credit as the inventor of the early swimming pool cleaner. However, there is no readily available evidence that shows the product was ever commercially produced or manufactured.
Fifteen years would pass before another ‘viable’ patent was issued. In 1937, a patent was filed for a machine that resembles the modern-day pool cleaner—brushes and all.
The 1950s: Three important steps
Three key developments occurred during this decade. The first, in 1953, was the invention of a device that resembled a typical upright vacuum cleaner. In addition to being inexpensive to manufacturer, the cleaner’s primary claim to fame was its light weight and ease of handling. It was also suction-side driven, could be operated via a standard garden hose and did not require outside electrical power. Another key development occurred in 1955 when a patent was filed for a ‘submarine suction cleaner.’ This is possibly the most referenced antecedent device in later patents, as it operated in much the same way as a robotic pool cleaner. It was designed to navigate the pool floor and even had its own self-contained suction motor. Technically, this cleaner comprised a pump, which filtered discharged water and sediment out of the pool. Where filtering equipment was available, the water from the discharge hose could be filtered and returned to the pool.
The following year, a leaf vacuum was invented, which claimed to remove leaves from the pool. In fact, this device could quite easily be confused with one of today’s commercial leaf vacuums.
The final breakthrough of the decade occurred in 1958, when Andrew L. Pansini, founder of Jandy, made an indelible mark in the pool industry by inventing a new automatic pool cleaner. It operated via a water hose attachment and the pool’s main pump and filter system to direct the flow of water, driving debris towards the pool’s main drain.