Birthplace: Cromer, Norfolk, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Inventor, Business
Executive summary: Dyson vacuum cleaner
James Dyson invented the vacuum cleaner that bears his name, made famous with late-night infomercials in which Dyson, with his charming British accent, describes the machine's ball-bearing steering and "superior suction". Raised in a middle-class family, he studied industrial design at the Royal College of Art in London, and later helped design the Sea Truck, a rugged short-distance boat, for Rotork Marine in the 1970s.
He formed a business partnership in 1974 to manufacture the Ballbarrow, a lightweight wheelbarrow designed by Dyson with a large ball in place of the front wheel, which gives the Ballbarrow improved stability, maneuverability, and helps prevent it from sinking deep into mud. Despite the popularity of the Ballbarrow, Dyson himself saw only a sliver of the proceeds. In what he called "naked naïveté", he had assigned his patent to the company, and he was squeezed out of his ownership stake in the business in a dispute over marketing strategy.
It was frustration that inspired Dyson to build a better vacuum cleaner, as the vacuum he was using in his own home kept clogging. In 1978 he invented the first bag-less vacuum, which operates on a different principle than previous vacuums. Instead of using bags and filters, Dyson's design sucks bits of litter and dust into a cone-shaped holding area where high-speed centrifugal force spins the material against the canister's interior walls, not only collecting the bits of floor flotsam in a holding area but also, as a consequence, releasing air that is cleaner than the ambient air in the room.
He spent years making design improvements and building literally thousands of prototypes, while trying to interest existing vacuum-makers in licensing his invention. From his experience with the Ballbarrow, he was not eager to again start his own business, but most companies that make vacuum cleaners also make substantial profits from selling vacuum filters and bags — so these companies had little interest in an innovation that would eliminate those product lines. Dyson said later, "I cannot overstate the soul-destroying drudgery of sitting in a boardroom with all these specialists, each with his own little area in which to attack you." Eventually, he again sought investors and established his own manufacturing facilities.
Dyson vacuums were first marketed in Japan in 1985, in the UK in 1993, and in the US in 2002. Despite being sold via infomercials, the machines are well-designed, sturdily build, and honestly do work better than ordinary vacuums. Dyson's vacuums now account for a substantial share of the market, and he eventually bought out his company's financial backers. The inventor's estimated personal worth exceeds $1B, he owns a £15M estate in Gloucestershire, and he was knighted Sir James Dyson by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006. His company, which also makes upright and hand-held ranges, dusting brushes, and fans, remains entirely owned by Dyson himself.
Father: Alec Dyson (teacher, d. 1956, liver cancer)
Mother: Mary Bolton (d., cancer)
Sister: Shanie Kirkwood
Wife: Deirdre Hindmarsh (teacher, m. 1968, three children)
Daughter: Emily (fashion designer)
Son: Jacob (lighting designer)
Son: Sam (rock 'n' roll performer)
High School: Gresham's School, Holt, Norfolk, England
University: Byam Shaw School, London, England
University: BS Design, Royal College of Art (1970)
Administrator: Chairman, Bath College of Higher Education (1990-92)
Dyson Research Ltd. Founder & President (1979-)
Kirk-Dyson Co-Founder & Designer (1974-79)
Rotork Marine Designer (1970-74)
Commander of the British Empire Jan-1998
Knight of the British Empire Dec-2006
Risk Factors: Meningitis
Author of books:
History of Great Inventions (2001, non-fiction)
20th Century Icons-Design (2001, non-fiction)
Against the Odds: An Autobiography (2003, memoir)
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