The Kirby


1960’s Kirby

I have a love/hate relationship with a household appliance.

I blame it on a 1960’s salesman who might have caused the demise of my parents’ marriage.

The Kirby vacuum cleaner has been produced since 1934, and even today, can only be purchased from direct door to door sales.

My mother was a perfect target, a lonely, isolated stay-at-home mother of 6.

The lively demonstration went down while my father was at work.

She was sold.

The shiny silver machine with endless boxes of mostly useless attachments came at a price of hundreds of dollars, money the family could ill afford.

This was long before “buyers remorse” policies that would protect her, for at least a day or so, from an impulsive purchase.

Many days of arguments, blame, guilt, worry were to follow. But in the end, we lugged that monster machine over 3 floors of carpet; all 50 pounds of it, or so it seemed at the time.

It sucked. In so many memorable ways.

In my life, I’ve never found a vacuum cleaner that I liked. I have threatened to tear up carpet and replace all of it with hardwood flooring.

It is an active threat. And it might be based on that Kirby.

I spotted one yesterday at a flea market. I didn’t stop to ask the price.

This entry was posted in Childhood, Family, Home, Memories, Relationships and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

89 Responses to The Kirby

  1. The V Pub says:

    It’s amazing how some things stay with us, and the feelings don’t diminish.

  2. Hardwood floors for me anytime. You brought back memories of sales people knocking on your door to sell you household items. We were young but were amused by all the gadgets.

  3. So true, Van. We had some kind of canister model, not sure what brand, but that thing weighed a ton!

  4. I have a kirby that came into my life the same way! Those darn salesmen were so good. The thing has been with me for 28 years and it weighs a ton. But wow, what a vacuum. And yeah, whatever happened to all those useless attachments? 🙂

  5. EttaD says:

    My God!! Back in the Bahamas the Kirby hit around ’99 and it wasn’t only the price that turned me off, it was also the pushy sales pitch.
    I agree with the fellow follower who said that it’s amazing how things stay with us. The Kirby has caused you and your family a lot of stress. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably not only have a hatred for it, but also fro carpets and door-to-door salesmen 😉

  6. AmyRose🌹 says:

    I use SEBO (expensive yes!) BUT this is the first vacuum cleaner I really enjoy using. Made in Germany and solid! Not only that, it really sucks. (smile) LOL ❤

  7. Val Boyko says:

    I come from the land of Hoover and have never heard of the Kirby! My husband on the other hand started to share lots of memories of his Mom and her devotion to it. She loved it!
    I guess that’s why he does the cleaning around here 😉

    • Color me jealous, Val. I do get help on the stairs. Hence the draw to hardwood. I have some of it…I’d rather mop, scrub toilets, etc. Anything but vacuum. ☺

  8. Brenda says:

    Growing up, my mother bought a Hoover vacuum. We didn’t have money, but we had a Hoover vacuum cleaner. My mother got sucked in by a salesman as well. Anyway, one day my grandfather on my mother’s side expressed that he liked the vacuum cleaner. My father gave it to him on the spot. I’m not sure how my mother felt about it, but she loved her parents and would’ve done anything for them. I had completely forgotten about it until this post. 🙂

    • Isn’t it funny what can trigger those memories. (You’re welcome ??). I saw a boxed set of a restored Kirby yesterday, and it made me smile. Until I remembered the conflict from childhood. Always fascinating to see what the brain retains. ☺

  9. LauraBelle says:

    My mom bought a Kirby in the 1980s and believe it or not that thing is still running. They were well built that’s for sure.

  10. Erika Kind says:

    That was a true trauma!

  11. LaVagabonde says:

    That is a dinosaur household appliance, in more ways than one. 😉

  12. Elyse says:

    My dog kills vacuum cleaners. He’s two and I just bought the 4th. The first two were expensive ones that didn’t last. So I switched to cheap ones that won’t last either but they are cheap.

    I was once, for a very brief time, a door-to-door sales person. Encyclopedias. At least I didn’t have to carry a Kirby!

    • If I had to sell something that way, it would have been books, maybe even Britannica. Then…Google happened. ☺ I still have a set from the 60’s, complete with yearbooks. Respect.

      • Elyse says:

        It was a HORRIBLE job. They were good books (Collier) and it was long before Google. Awful way to make very little money!

  13. TanGental says:

    I think it was cars that caused stress; dad always had a friend who knew someone who rated some car or other which, when bought proved to be an absolute dog. My brother calculated that we owned four of the top five worst cars made in the 1970s. Some track record dad. Shortly after he died mum made her first decision: to get a new car and not one dad wanted.

  14. I like my vacuum but
    I’d rather not have any carpet. ❤
    Diana xo

  15. amommasview says:

    Ha! My mom had a Kirby too and in the beginning she thought it’s the most amazing thing ever… Well… I don’t agree with her. We only have carpets in the bedrooms and I’m sure glad that’s the case but I do like my Dyson (it’s loud, but it does a great job)…

    • I know many fans of the Dyson. ☺

      • amommasview says:

        I would have never thought that I would be so happy to get a vacuum cleaner as a gift… the day my husband came home I acted as if he would have gotten me some kind of fancy diamond ring… He just looked at me and said something down the line “have we gotten that far already” and we both had to laugh.

      • Happy for you, Sandra. But if my husband presented me with a vacuum, he knows….grounds for divorce. ☺

      • amommasview says:

        Hehehehe… Our old one blew up so he went out to chase one down and came home with the Dyson (which I did not expect). I think if he would give me something like this for my birthday or for Christmas he would get in trouble though 😉

  16. Deb says:

    That’s so funny! My Mom had one of those Singer sewing machines…now whenever I see one as an antique it always brings back childhood memories…good ones though! 🙂

    • I bought an old Singer with cabinet, foot pedals and bench…not sure if it even works, but I liked the antique look. I still have my grandmother’s portable from the 50’s. ☺

      • Deb says:

        That’s the one, except we didn’t have the bench…but the wooden tops lifts up and opens to the left or right I can’t remember now and then the machine lifts up and yup there was a foot pedal. Does your grandmother’s still work? 🙂

      • Yes, it does. But sadly, I hardly ever use it anymore. It got me through high school, when I made a lot of my things, right after that first Home Ec. class. ☺

      • Deb says:

        Oh I remember Home Ec..sewing one semester and cooking the other…I was better at cooking than sewing but still could have used more than a semester!! 😉

  17. I remember a Kirby demo. I think my mom bought one. She was impressed when the salesman use it to vacuum the mattress on her bed, to remove dead skin and lice and such…

  18. Xena says:

    I purchased an entire Kirby system in 1989 and still have it. Through the years, I used it to shampoo carpets and spray paint. The main complaint I had was about the belts. They seemed to break after every use. I still have it in the basement — haven’t used it for years and have two other vacuum cleaners that don’t feel like I’m lifting a dead body up the stairs.

    Two years ago, a young man came to my house offering a free carpet cleaning for one room. It was a Kirby demonstration. I told him that I already had a Kirby. He offered to give me a discount for a trade-in/upgrade. I offered him a deal — If he earned enough selling Kirby’s to open his own distributorship, then I would donate my dinosaur to him to display in his store.

    I haven’t seen him since.

    • Ha…it makes you wonder. I haven’t heard of any of those distributors in quite a while, but they’re still out there, I think, right beside the Amway folks. ☺ Thanks for sharing.

  19. Bradley says:

    We had a Kirby. I loved the one attachment that could be used to massage your scalp and unclog toilets. We never used it at all.

  20. I am not fond of those things. I’d rather have a marble or hard wood flooring. Certain things do stick in our memories and definitely define our choices.

  21. Years ago, my first (and last) Kirby salesman (they made appts in those days) stayed for three hours trying to sell me one! I now have all hardwood floors to this day. And I have a Dyson.

  22. Mandy says:

    Can’t I have a maid before my life is over?? 😀

  23. Fabulously written. I’m right at your side tearing up carpet and replacing it with hardwood. We did.

    • Two things holding us back from hardwood. Husband will want to do the work himself (retired, skilled) but should not (back issues, early arthritis). The other issue…not sure we want to make the investment, hoping to move. ☺

  24. George says:

    lol…that’s funny, in a strange way, of course. Love the last line. It’s safe to say they don’t make them like that anymore..:)

  25. Bun Karyudo says:

    It sounds a bit more like a hate/hate relationship to me. 🙂

  26. This bought back the memory of our old hoover complete with external bag which when I was a child would belch out dust as I attempted to hoover/Vacuum the carpets.. 🙂

  27. Those memories sure stick with us! Thanks for painting this picture and sharing!

  28. joey says:

    I don’t know much about Kirby. I know some people who still love their Rainbow (the one with the water tank.) I’m a Dyson person. My Dyson has lasted five times as long as any other vacuum I’ve had. I feel like my loyalty has been well-earned.

  29. Go for hardwood floors or get a robot. We have several and unless I get a maid I’m never happy. We have two dogs that shed and everyday the same hairballs come back.

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