James Dyson Persevered Through 5,127 Prototypes to Achieve Vacuum Cleaner Success

(p. C7) James Dyson was a less than stellar student at the boarding school he attended in Norfolk, England, where his father was a classics master. Yet he would become the founder of a family-owned global manufacturing empire. Mr. Dyson gained fame—and a peerage—as the inventor of a revolutionary vacuum cleaner that exploits the principle of the cyclone and never needs a replacement bag, among other novel domestic appliances.

. . .

It took Mr. Dyson four years and precisely 5,127 prototypes—as he reminds us in the first paragraph of this book’s introduction and in the last paragraph of its last chapter, as well as several times in between. He points out that his perseverance—abetted by subsequent and continuing failures in the form of rebuffs from the likes of banks, venture capitalists, government agencies, manufacturers, distributors and retailers—was rewarded with ultimate success. The idea of “accepting and even enjoying failure, but going on” is another theme carried throughout Mr. Dyson’s book.

. . .

With success achieved in the United Kingdom, Mr. Dyson looked to sell the fruits of his intellectual property beyond the sceptered shores. In America, he got legally tangled up with Amway, which he was convinced was infringing on his patents. The lessons learned from his failure to protect his patent rights for the Ballbarrow, however, steeled Mr. Dyson and his wife and business partner, Deirdre, against allowing this to happen a second time. Mr. Dyson sued Amway and, after five years of costly litigation, received a favorable settlement. The victory boosted the businessman’s growing reputation as a fighter and a winner.

. . .

. . . , Mr. Dyson tells a story of the struggles of entrepreneurship, and his arduous quests for private capital; suitable manufacturing facilities; building permits; talented and trained employees; and at least moral support from the British government. He reveals the many and continuing obstacles—financial, political, regulatory, sociological, cultural—that frustrated his attempts to expand his manufacturing enterprises within the United Kingdom. This challenge, he explains, eventually drove him to move the bulk of his business to Singapore, where Mr. Dyson’s company is now headquartered.

For the full review, see:

Henry Petroski. “The Inventor’s Dilemma.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Sept. 3, 2021, and has the title “‘Invention’ Review: James Dyson’s Dilemma.”)

The book under review is:

Dyson, James. Invention: A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

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