NORTH CANTON — A hundred years ago, 160 of the best salesmen in the world made a pilgrimage to North Canton, the one-time capital of vacuum cleaners.
Men like Lloyd Doolittle and Fred Roake came from far and near to enjoy camaraderie and celebrate the success that was The Hoover Co.
And learn a few tips, too.
Founder W.H. “Boss” Hoover called it the International Sales Convention, a retreat and convention that began July 20, 1921 and ended July 27 at Hoover Camp.
The camp, which now sits across from Walsh University on East Maple Street, was set up on Hoover’s family farm. Today, this land is known as Hoover Park and is owned by Walsh.
“This was a huge event that took place in our town,” said Megan L. Pellegrino, director of the Hoover Historical Center, which occupies the former childhood home of “Boss” Hoover.
She said The Hoover Co. set up large tents and the salesmen camped for seven days on the property, playing games and learning some new tricks of the trade. There were music and skits, too.
The International Sales Convention reunion
The 1921 convention would be the first of many over parts of four decades at The Hoover Co.
And, 100 years later, the Hoover Historical Center and Walsh University will mark the anniversary with a campout July 16 and a free festival July 17.
Both events will allow the public rare access to historic grounds, parts of which are generally private.
“I always think 100th anniversaries are pretty cool and you shouldn’t miss them,” Pellegrino said.
The convention was an opportunity for salesmen to build relationships with each other and meet their bosses, Hoover and his son H.W. Hoover.
Conversely, it was a chance for the Hoovers and other executives to “see the faces” of the men out there selling their product in England, Canada and the United States, Pellegrino said.
The convention — and the pageantry that came with it — was akin to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Festival. This was a huge deal for the company and the community.
The salesmen “poured in from all directions to attend the greatest convention ever held by their company,” said the company’s internal publication, the Daily Ibaisaic, on July 21, 1921.
Ibaisaic was short for “It Beats As It Sweeps As It Cleans,” an old Hoover advertising slogan.
By train, trolley and automobile, most of the men arrived in town on July 20 and were greeted by a reception committee. The headline in the Daily Ibaisaic read, “Hail, Hail, Our Gang’s All Here!”
Hundreds of Hoover employees, many of them North Canton-area residents, lined the streets near the factory and cheered the salesmen into town with a parade. It was a celebration.
All the departments in The Hoover Co. were represented in the parade. There were flags, music and bright-colored floats.
“This was huge for all of North Canton,” Pellegrino said.
The conventions occurred annually from 1921 to 1928; and, after a short break, they returned sporadically from the 1930s through 1950s.
The conventions grew in scope with the addition of a banquet hall and an auditorium at Hoover Camp. It also became a place for salesmen — and factory workers — to co-mingle.
“You know they were celebrating the salesmen but it wasn’t all about them. It was about the community, too,” Pellegrino said.
Reconnecting the past
Pellegrino curated the Hoover Historical Center for 10 years before she left for another position in 2018. After two years away, she returned in February to become the center’s director.
“I want to connect the history to the events,” she said.
The Hoover Co. began manufacturing electric vacuum cleaners in 1908 after “Boss” Hoover bought patents from janitor and inventor James M. Spangler. Prior to that, Hoover was a tannery business.
The Hoover family kept control of the company until 1985 before Chicago Pacific acquired it. Maytag bought Chicago Pacific and Hoover for $1 billion in 1989.
By 1995, Maytag sold all of Hoover’s overseas operations. That left North American operations. In 2004, Maytag moved all white collar jobs to Newton, Iowa. Whirlpool bought Maytag in 2006.
A year later, Techtronics Industries (TTI) bought the Hoover unit from Whirlpool and eventually moved all operations out of Stark County, including North Canton.
Pellegrino said TTI Floor Care North America, a division of TTI, runs the Hoover brand and is sponsoring the anniversary events. She said the North Carolina division wanted to reconnect the brand to its roots and plans to be at the festival.
“If you think about it, there aren’t a lot of brands that would ever have this kind of historic opportunity,” Jessica Rapp, vice president and general manager for TTI Floor Care, said in a prepared statement.
Rapp added: “But we’re not just celebrating a milestone in time. We’re celebrating the people and the community that have kept Hoover’s rich history alive and well for more than 100 years. We’re proud to be part of that century-old heritage.”
The old Hoover factory still stands at the corner of Main Street and Maple Street in downtown North Canton. The chimney stack remains an iconic landmark. Pellegrino said the company might be gone but its place in local history has never wavered.
“You know you can go to any part of the world and show the Hoover logo and people know it means vacuums,” Pellegrino said. “We should still be proud of that because it started here.”