Down The Rabbit Hole – The History of The Leaf Blower

Have you ever wondered who invented leaf blowers? Or how they developed over time? Well, we sure did. Thus, we invite you to join us on our journey down the rabbit hole of this quite obscure, yet frankly fascinating topic.

So, who invented the leaf blower?

A question came up in our writing room — “Guys? Does anybody know who invented leaf blowers?” Frankly, nobody did! Well, and since we do have a website dedicated to these devices, we thought it would be appropriate to find out.

According to the mighty Wikipedia, the leaf blower was invented by Aldo Vandermolen in the 1950s. Firstly, that’s somewhat unspecific and secondly, the claim is unsourced! We weren’t happy with that answer and so we decided to do our own research.

Are we in the Wonderland yet?

Vandermolen 850 BTx Backpack blower

The Vandermolen 850 BTx, an old backpack leaf blower.
Source: forconstructionpros.com

It is commonly understood that the leaf blower was created by unauthorized dismantling of crop dusters. The powerful engine was a perfect tool for clearing large amounts of leaves without exerting any manual labor. Manufacturers noticed the trend and responded by creating leaf blowers that we know today.

According to some sources, the first actual leaf blower was a 1959 invention of H. L. Diehl. His company claims that they have invented both the first walk behind leaf blower and vacuum machine. The H. L. Diehl company later rebranded itself as the Giant Vac company and produce walk behind blowers and vacuums to this day.

In the meantime, the above-mentioned Vandermolen and his company began exporting its own two-stroke backpack blower in the 1960s, yet there are no sources to confirm its invention by him. Therefore, we consider the original inventors to be the hackers who had the idea of dismantling the crop dusters.

The Powerful Echo

an old walk behind leaf blower

Some old walk behind leaf blower

Leaf blowers apparently began rising in popularity after the introduction of the first US produced petrol backpack blower in 1971 by Echo. By reducing the shipping costs and increasing their production, they became very appealing to US citizens who are known for their love of pitch-perfect lawns. This step opened the market to casual users of leaf blowers.

In 1978, Echo stroke again with their “probably” first handheld leaf blower. The device was petrol powered, far more versatile than the walk behind and backpack models and most importantly, way cheaper. This resulted in even an even larger boom of sales.

Blowback

The sharp rise in leaf blower use resulted in both noise and pollution. Understandably, many cities began regulating them. The most notable example comes from Los Angeles, where the petrol devices were first curbed in 1978 and later banned in 1998 in 500 ft distance of a residence. By then, the leaf blower industry has totaled over 1 million sales in the US alone, with the hand-held blower outselling the back pack roughly 5 to 1.

The bans and regulations promote silent and more eco-friendly devices, yet at the expense of their blowing power. An extreme example of that is the electro-engine leaf blower, which is significantly inferior to its petrol chugging peers.

But is there more to the story?

As for the history of leaf blowers as credited by the internet, that would be pretty much it. But there seems to be a gap—Leaf blowers were pioneered as hacked crop dusters. Yet, an ex-jet engine technician, H. L. Diehl, later decided to make a lawnmower version of them? That’s a very odd logical jump, isn’t it? How on Earth did he get that idea?

Well, under further inspection, we found out that the invention of the backpacks and the walk behinds seem to not be related at all!

A plot twist

first snow blower

The first snowblower

The walk behind leaf blower is an adaptation of a very different device—the snow blower. Its history goes way beyond crop dusters. The first snow blower dates to the year 1870. And frankly, it was a beastly machine. The so-called Railway Screw Snow Excavator was locomotive powered rotor, that was intended for clearing the snow-covered railways.

The snow blower was a far more important invention than the leaf blower, as it saved hours of manual labor and the lives of wage slaves who formerly had to travel miles into the wilderness to clear the train tracks of snow. Over time, the snow blowers shrunk, first to the size of a vehicle with the Sicard Snow Remover in 1925 and later to their hand-held version, with the Toro Snowhound in 1951.

The design is in principle pretty much identical with the walk behind leaf blowers, thus it would make far more sense to link the H. L. Stihl invention to them, rather than the crop dusters. Thus, we argue that the history of the leaf blower dates all the way back to the 1870s.

some really old basic blowers

Some really old piece of machinery. To the left, a Toro machine.
Source: chainsawjournal.com

Conclusion

We may therefore draw a clear picture of the development process of the leaf blower and the path it took. We may also see that the backpack leaf blowers and the walk behind leaf blowers do not have a common history—the backpacks were invented by hacking the crop duster in the 1950s, while the walk behind can be linked all the way back to snowblowers from 1870s.

It is fascinating to go back in time and witness that unlike computers, cars, or phones, the leaf blower has not changed much over the years. Modern leaf blowers may be lighter, more efficient and prettier, but other than that, they’re the good ol’boys our forefathers used to use.

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