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The Connection Between Nova Scotia, America’s First Female CEO And The Bissell Vacuum

When Anna Sutherland was a young girl growing up in River John, Nova Scotia she hadn’t the faintest clue that she was destined for greatness.

She was the daughter of William and Eleanor Sutherland. William was a mariner and decided to move the family to De Perre, Wisconsin where by the age of 16 Anna became a school teacher.

When she was 19, Anna married Melville Bissell and they moved to Kalamazoo and later onto Grand Rapids in Michigan. She became joint partner in their crockery and china business.

Anna Sutherland Bissell, originally from River John, Nova Scotia.

Anna constantly complained about Melville trekking sawdust through their house and the difficulty of removing it from their carpets. Melville in-turn created a new invention called the carpet sweeper.

They launched the Bissell Carpet Sweeper in 1876 and in turn Anna went on to be its number one salesperson. There were much bigger things in store for the lady from Pictou County.

When Melville died in 1889, he left the company to Anna and she became the first female CEO in the United States. Anna secured trademarks and patents on their products and one decade later, Bissell was the largest maker of carpet sweepers in the world.

The Nova Scotia native became chairwoman of the company’s board and was a leader and pioneer in policies that are standard today. She created fixed working hours and annual vacation time. Bissell employees got a pension plan and were prepared for retirement when they left the company. She put her personal touch on the business and gained the loyalty of her workers.

A bronze statue of Anna Bissell was unveiled in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2016 to commemorate her life and history.

Anna Bissell was president of the company from 1889 until 1919 and outlived her husband by 45 years. She was a pioneer in American business and ran the company that pioneered the invention that would become the vacuum cleaner.

Anne Sutherland Bissell died on November 8, 1934, in Grand Rapids in Michigan.

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