The Story of the World’s Most Beloved Vacuum

Numatic’s Henry Vacuum Cleaner

With over 15 million made and most still in use today, it’s no wonder that the names Numatic and Henry have become synonymous with cleaning excellence. 

His distinctive smile and robust build has made Henry a staple in homes, offices, and commercial spaces around the globe. But how did this friendly-faced cleaner come to be? Let’s embark on a journey through time to uncover the fascinating history of Henry.


The Beginning

Our story begins in Somerset, in Southwest England, where British engineering company Numatic International was founded by Chris Duncan in 1969.

Numatic’s first commercial vacuum cleaner designs were made of a combination of oil drums and everyday components that were readily available, such as suitcase handles, furniture castors, and domestic washing-up bowls – all assembled to provide simple, reliable workhorses for commercial and industrial use. From 1969, the company grew and continued to innovate, producing wet-pick-up machines and their first rotary floor machine in 1973.


The Birth of an Icon

“We turned an inanimate object into an animate object” – Chris Duncan, Numatic CEO and founder

From left to right, NV-2 (Numatic’s first serious commercial vacuum cleaner), NV-250 (highly successful model that followed the NV-2 approx. 1976), NVR200 (first commercial variant of Henry vacuum), Old Henry model (year unknown)

The famous Henry smile happened mostly by accident. Bored at a trade show in the 70s, the Numatic salesmen began to dress up their latest vacuum cleaner; first by putting ribbon and a union flag badge on what began to look like a hat. They then found some chalk and drew a crude smile under the hose outlet, which started to look like a nose, and then some eyes. They nicknamed the result “Henry” with sales increasing year by year since 1981.

Henry was designed as a robust, reliable, and user-friendly vacuum cleaner designed to meet the demands of both professional cleaners and homeowners alike. With his bright red color, cheerful face, and sturdy construction, Henry quickly captured the hearts of consumers across the United Kingdom.


The Evolution of Henry

Numatic Henry models including Henry Quick, Henry Scrubber, Henry Mop and the cordless Henry

(From Left to Right) Henry Quick Stick Vacuum, Henry Floor Scrubber, Henry Spraymop, and Cordless NX300 Henry Vacuum Cleaner

Since his debut, Henry has undergone several iterations and improvements, each aimed at enhancing performance, efficiency, and user experience. Even so, of the 75 parts it takes to make up the latest model of the Henry Vacuum, many of these parts could be used to repair the 1981 original!

Over the years, Henry has evolved to meet changing market demands and technological advancements. New models have been introduced, offering features such as larger capacity, quieter operation, and greater energy efficiency. Despite these changes, Henry’s iconic design and cheerful demeanor have remained constant, earning him a loyal following around the world.

Now, the famous Henry smile can be found on a cordless pull-along vacuum (NBV190NX), a stick vacuum (HENRYQUICK), and in a range of colours, including his pink female counterpart, Hetty!


A Global Superstar

While Henry initially gained popularity in the United Kingdom, his appeal quickly spread beyond British shores. Today, Henry vacuum cleaners are sold in over 100 countries worldwide, with millions of units sold annually.

Today, Numatic owns a manufacturing facility in Chard, Somerset, and eight subsidiary companies located in France, South Africa, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Built, tested and packed in the UK, Henry is the only mass-produced consumer vacuum cleaner still made in Britain. 

A cultural icon, Henry has been spotted photobombing a UK press conference at Downing Street and playing the lead roles in a shop’s nativity display. From hanging by a rope with abseilers cleaning Westminster Abbey, to fending off a masked robber in the hands of a shopkeeper, Henry isn’t just a machine, he’s part of the family.

The Legacy of the Ultimate Cleaning Companion

As we reflect on the history of Henry the Vacuum Cleaner, it’s clear that he has left an indelible mark on the world of cleaning technology. From humble beginnings in a small town in England to global recognition as a household name, Henry’s journey is a testament to the power of innovation, quality craftsmanship, and timeless design.

But perhaps Henry’s greatest legacy lies in the smiles he brings to the faces of those who use him. Whether it’s the satisfaction of a job well done or the joy of watching his friendly face glide across the floor, Henry has a way of making even the most mundane cleaning tasks a little more enjoyable.

So here’s to Henry, the vacuum cleaner with a heart of gold and a smile that brightens any room. As long as there are floors to be cleaned and messes to be tidied, Henry will be there, faithfully serving generations to come.


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