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How to Clean Early Chicago Movie Theaters

Discover one way to clean 1920s movie houses on the cheap


After the 1918 Flu Pandemic, movie theater owners in Chicago and across the United States were preoccupied with cleanliness and sanitation. Rightly so, since moviegoers wanted to feel safe when they walked through the doors and took a seat.


Theaters that did not meet mandated standards of cleanliness were in danger of losing their patronage and ultimately their buildings.


What else was at the forefront of the theater owner's mind at this time? Figuring out how to clean a movie house for a cheap price.


Enter the Arco Wand, pictured above.


Eating Up Every Particle of Dirt


In 1921, the sleek Arco Wand is advertised in movie industry magazines as "a truck vacuum cleaner" that will "eat up every particle of dirt after each show."


When compared to hand-cleaning a movie house, especially a large one like Chicago's Central Park Theater, the vacuum's advantages are plenty:

  • Fast

  • Portable, featuring rubber wheels

  • Capable of reaching drapes, upholstered furniture in "comfort rooms," and carpets

  • Versatile, operating on 110 or 220 volts, direct or alternating current

  • Simple enough for "women and unskilled laborers" to manipulate (sigh)

  • Cost-cutting since only 1 attendant was needed to run it

  • No installation necessary

Seems as though investing in an Arco Wand is a no-brainer, right?


Vacuum Showrooms in Chicago


In fact, plenty of movie theaters in Chicago adopted the Arco Wand.


Scan this list from Moving Picture World (Oct. 1921), and see how many Chicago theaters you can count:



Based on the advertisement below, theater owners could purchase the Arco Wand Truck Vacuum Cleaner in an American Radiator Co. showroom at 816-820 S. Michigan.


So it makes sense that Chicago would be well-represented on the above list of "boosters."


The American Radiator Co. (Arco for short) also promoted their vacuum products to churches, private homeowners, apartment leasers, and public building managers. In 1919, one version of the cleaning device was available for $195.00, or about $3,300 today.



Cleaning Movie Theaters Today


In this current post-pandemic era, movie theater owners are again preoccupied with cleanliness and sanitation.


To attract clientele, they have integrated into the theater experience misters and foggers, electrostatic guns, readily available Clorox wipes, and plexiglass screens around popcorn and snacks.


Additionally, exhibition chains like Cinemark ensure their vacuum cleaners are equipped with HEPA filters, which reportedly trap "at least 99.97% of microscopic particles, including viruses such as COVID-19."


Once more, we find history repeating itself. Only time will tell, of course, as we move further away from the COVID-19 pandemic, if the movie theater cleaning process will continue...

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Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Very informative! I wish I could have found if any Frederick theaters used this product.

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Gwen Simmons

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