My girlfriend is moving into my apartment in June, and among the myriad things I'm excited about is the opportunity to buy a new vacuum. My current roommate's vacuum is basically a motorized drinking straw that requires 15 passes over the same piece of string before picking it up and dropping it on the floor again. While we probably can't afford a Dyson, I marvel at the man who just thinks things should work properly.
1. He conquered Japan
Japan's market for hi-tech gadgets is, to say the least, saturated. But the constant innovation means the Japanese are less attached to their brands, which allowed Dyson to break into the market in the early 90s when no one in the UK was interested in his bagless vacuum design. Dyson snagged an International Design Fair prize with his G-Force model, and the Japanese began snatching them up at $2,000 a piece.
2. He's got an awesome house to clean with that fancy vacuum
Sometimes, two houses aren't enough. So in 2003, Dyson bought his third home, Dodington Park, a country estate in Gloucestershire, England. The estate sits on 300 acres of land, which feature an orangery, several gardens, two lakes, a mile-long "carriage drive," and the source of the River Fromme.
The house itself, not to be overshadowed by the land around it, has 35,000 square feet of space, 15 bedrooms, 40 bathrooms and 10 reception rooms (a morning room, an ante room, a library and a music room just to name a few). And that's just the main house; there are also staff quarters, two lodges, a Dower house, a farmhouse and four cottages (which bring the bedroom total to 51). If Dyson wants to admire the view of the property from any of the buildings, he can choose from 150 windows. If he just wants to sit back and relax, he's got 24 fireplaces to settle down next to.
3. A battle with disease turned him into a philanthropist
Dyson contracted viral meningitis when he was 45, but didn't realize it until his wife insisted his doctor test for it. After learning how hard the symptoms are to diagnose, Dyson set out to raise awareness of the disease and its symptoms. In 2000, he raised Â£1.5 million for the Meningitis Research Foundation by auctioning off two of his company's executives for a sponsored leg wax, playing a charity football match against Malmesbury's Victoria Football Club (the Dyson team won 5-1), holding Dyson Quiz Nights at 20 different pubs and donating the proceeds from the sales of 40,000 limited-edition purple and magenta vacuums.
4. It's simply a cool vacuum
People usually don't throw the word "revolutionary" around when talking about vacuum cleaners, but Dyson's design is considered just that. The bag-less, filter-less design doesn't clog or lose suction. It's a nice piece of eye candy, too, and is included in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the London Science Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Museum fÃ¼r Angewandte Kunst in Cologne, the Zurich Design Museum, the Design Museum in Lisbon and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney
5. Frustration was the mother of his invention
When Dyson was six-years-old, his father grew ill, forcing the boy to help his mother around the house. Vacuuming was his least favorite chore because of the "terrible smell of stale dog and dust" and poor suction on the vacuum. Three decades later, still frustrated by his vacuum cleaner at home, he was visited a sawmill and saw workers cleaning up sawdust with a big cone that used a spinning column of air for suction. He spent the next three years in his workshop developing his dual-cyclone vacuum.
6. He's an icon of clean
Three years ago, the Dyson became the most popular vacuum cleaners in America—one in five of all floor cleaners bought carried his name. His vacuums have made cameos on Friends and Ellen DeGeneres' daytime talk show, been given away in goodie bags at both the Emmys and the Oscars, and used to accessorize models at Fashion Week. The man is a real life Mr. Clean, but he's still ambitious. He told Salon.com that he wants to become a verb, in the same way Google has. If you want to help the guy out, Google a vacuum store near you and Dyson your dirty floors.
7. That's Sir James Dyson to you
Dyson was honored as a Knight Bachelor in 2006, a move that drew some criticism from union leaders angered by the fact that, just four years earlier, Dyson moved his vacuum production plant from England to Malaysia. Despite the controversy, Dyson can rest easy knowing that he has a fan in the Queen. In his autobiography he says, "I was bowing in front of Her Majesty to receive this great big medal around my neck when she said, 'And what do you do exactly, Mr. Dyson?' I told her that I was the manufacturer of the Dyson vacuum cleaner. 'Oh, really?' she said. 'We've got dozens of them about the palace.'" A ringing endorsement if there ever was one.
8. He wants you to learn from his mistakes (and yours)
Dyson says it took him four and a half years and 5,127 prototypes to refine the design of his vacuum. There's a life lesson in determination there, but more important is the knowledge that the road to success is sometimes paved with 5,000+ failures. Dyson embraces the lessons people can learn from mistakes and has said that the "the freedom to fail" is lacking in public education. So in 2006 (a busy year for him), he announced his plan to build the Dyson School of Design Innovation. The goal of the school is to encourage teenagers to explore careers in engineering and design. Twenty-five hundred students will receive a free education with a heavy focus on hands-on projects and close relationships with mentors. The school, funded by the James Dyson Foundation and the British government, will also have weeklong residencies for younger children with interests in engineering.
Dyson's desire to educate also takes shape at his company, where every new employee, right up to the highest executives, tries their hand a building a vacuum on their first day.
9. His wife and kids aren't resting on his laurels
Mrs. Deirdre Dyson has her own rug design business, and a few of her rugs have shown up in the Big Brother house. The Dysons' daughter, Emily, used to work as a designer for Paul Smith. Like her father, she turned her frustration at a lack of appealing products into a business. She now owns Couverture, a boutique in London. Their son Jacob also took up the family trade and has a career in lighting design. The other Dyson son, Sam, is obviously the black sheep of the designing family; he plays guitar in a band called Wax On Wax Off.
10. He's pretty nifty with other things, too
After he turned the world of household appliances on its head, Dyson started tinkering with other things and grabbed headlines at the 2002 Chelsea Flower Show with the "Wrong Garden." Dyson built the water sculpture, which features four glass ramps positioned in a square, with the water seemingly flowing uphill and pouring off the top, after finding inspiration in an M.C. Escher drawing. Like Escher's work, it's a clever optical illusion; water is pumped in at the bottom of the glass structures and comes out of an opening at the top. At the opening, some of the water falls back down the surface of the ramp, while the rest falls over the edge like a waterfall. Compressed air pumped in along with the water causes bubbles to travel up the ramp towards the opening, creating the illusion of the water's upward movement.
His latest project is the Dyson Airblade, a super-efficient and enviro-friendly hand dryer. The dryer produces an air stream that flows out of a slit no thicker than an eyelash at 400 mph. In tests, the Airblade dried hands completely in just ten seconds and beat the energy efficiency of conventional dryers by 83%. Insert your own "this blows as hard as the vacuum sucks" joke here.
Matt Soniak is a mental_floss intern. You can read more about Matt on his own blog, Bat Country. He may have to venture into acting, if only to get his hands on one of those pretty yellow vacuums they give to Oscar nominees.