Information about the history that shaped today’s pool and spa industry is hard to come by. However, the advent of automatic pool cleaners, and pressure side cleaners in particular, is certainly a factor that fashioned the industry and made the backyard pool commonplace.
Automatic pressure side cleaners that operate totally independently of human control began to make their debut in the 1950’s, at roughly the same time that the backyard pool became vogue.
Richard K. Cacioppo, swimming pool historian, is the author of a comprehensive volume concerning pool cleaners. In “The History of Pool Cleaners,” Cacioppo tracks down the earliest automatic cleaner prototypes using the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“Like pools themselves, there almost certainly was not a single inventor or a single powered pool cleaner that has been recorded in history as the first such machine.”
“Fathers of Invention” a biography of Andrew L Pansini, written by his son, Andrew A. Pansini, is another comprehensive history of the automatic pressure side cleaner. Published in 2017, its cast of characters includes Andy Pansini, Howard Arneson, the Jacuzzi Brothers, Phil Anthony and many more who helped shape the pool and spa industry.
In “Fathers of Invention,” Pansini credits his father for having invented the first automatic cleaner. Pansini developed the idea in 1957 when a running garden hose fell into his pool and began to wildly snake through the water.
“He observed that the hose that had fallen into the pool was swishing back and forth, raising the dirt that was on the floor of the pool up into suspension, which would then settle closer to the main drain at the deep end of the pool,” Pansini wrote.
From this concept, the Rigid Arm Pool Cleaner was born. The device had a hose that was supplied by either a garden hose or the return side of the pump filter system that randomly stirred up dirt and debris allowing it to be collected by the skimmer or main drain. Believing that his invention would become a success, he founded the company Jandy, a name that combined his wife’s name, Jane, with his own name, Andy.
A short time later, Pansini wanted to see if he could use the existing pressure from the filter pump to operate the cleaner. That’s when he met the Jacuzzi brothers who had been in the business of making water pumps, before they had famously invented their own Jacuzzi Tub.
With the help of the Jacuzzi brothers, the concept of a booster pump was created because the existing filter pressure was not powerful enough to power Pansini’s new cleaner.
In 1958, Pansini contacted Howard Arneson for help with development of his pool cleaner. The two began working on the design features, refining the original concept into what would later become the Arneson Pool Sweep.
In the 1960’s Pansini designed the Leaf Master because his original cleaner was effective at removing dirt but not leaves. This product is still sold today.
Invented in 1965, many consider The Arneson Pool Sweep the earliest of the modern day pressure side cleaner. Resembling an octopus, its sweeping hoses push debris toward the main drain while it’s floating “brain” transports the hoses and a rotating jet stream of water rinses the tile.
According to “Howard Arneson’s Pool Sweep” by Prem C. Garg,Arneson then sublicensed Anthony Pools to make these cleaners for their own use.
Sold under the name Antho-Sweep, these pool cleaners were sold heavily in the 60’s and 70’s for the pools that Anthony Pools built.
In “1973, the Polaris pool cleaner debuted at the National Swimming Pool Convention in Anaheim California. Invented by Dr. Mel Henken from Texas, Pansini said it made a big statement at the show.
“It was like a little tractor running around the floor of the pool and it used a Venturi jet to suck up leaves into a bag that was attached,” Pansini wrote.
This was the first pressure cleaner competitor to come on the market that didn’t use Pansini’s patent.
These early prototypes form the basis for the pool cleaner technology that is still in use today. Now, nearly 70 years later, the pressure side cleaner has certainly been improved upon, but the essential principle remains with little changed.
Andrew Pansini Jr., shows his new book, “Fathers of Invention,” to P.I.E. volunteer Beverly Choate.