(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
That music means that this summer we're taking you to unsung museums all across the country, ones you're not likely to find on a map or even in a travel book.
TOM GASKO: My name is Tom Gasko, and I am the curator at the Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James, Mo.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And St. James is about an hour and a half outside St. Louis. And its Vacuum Cleaner Museum gets more than 2,000 visitors a year - that according to Tom Gasko. He's a former door-to-door vacuum salesman who now offers guided tours through nearly a century and a half of vacuum cleaner history. The oldest ones date back to just after the Civil War.
GASKO: The original vacuum cleaners were developed before there were motors. The first ones used a crank - kind of like an egg beater.
GASKO: It's an awesome machine.
INSKEEP: Crank up the vacuum cleaner. Now, this museum houses more than 750 vacuum cleaners - or vacuum, as Tony Randall used to say. The first electric machines came out in the early 1900s, and Gasko has a few that still work.
GASKO: One of my favorite machines in the museum was made in January of 1910 by the Royal company. He's 106 and a half years old. I'm going to start him now for you.
GASKO: One of my favorites.
MONTAGNE: He says vacuum cleaners were the first electrical appliances with a cord. Although, plugging them in was tricky.
GASKO: So what you had to do was to get on a chair and unscrew the light bulb and connect the cord to the socket where the light bulb had been. It wouldn't be until the early 1920s when enough things that used electricity had been sold that we then had receptacles and plugs on the end of cords.
MONTAGNE: For Gasko, vacuum cleaners do more than collect dust and dirt. They capture history.
GASKO: For example, the 1950s vacuum cleaners would have tailfins. There was pinks and turquoise. Of course, the women in the ads, too, had 12-inch waists, high heels, pearls and diamonds, hair and makeup just done.
INSKEEP: Tom Gasko of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum, where the collection sucks. But that's a compliment.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.