His father was a Great Lakes marine engineer. Kirby grew up in Cleveland's southwest side on Marvin Avenue. He claims that he got his start early by attending electricity and magic classes at the YMCA While attending Lincoln High School he worked as a lamplighter, where he walked up and down Scranton road and Denison avenue lighting and snuffing out the street lights for which he earned $16.50 a month. He would often also go to downtown Cleveland and "stuff" newspapers for a dollar a night. He invented his first vacuum cleaner, called the Domestic Cyclone, in 1906, which was a hand-powered canister cleaner that used a water filtration system. Jim Kirby lived most of his adult life on his farm near Richfield, Ohio, about 28 miles south of Cleveland.
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