With Lexus advertising its “revolutionary” headlights that turn in the direction of the wheels—invented six decades ago by Preston Tucker and revived 20 years after that by Citroën—it’s not a bad time for an appreciation of inventors. Nevada lost one last week.
Carl Parise passed away on Jan. 17 at Washoe Medical Center (South Meadows). He was 83. His individualism and determination saw him rise from a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman with an eighth-grade education to founder of a multimillion-dollar company that manufactured the combination vacuum-steam cleaner he patented.
Born May 16, 1921, in Denver to Michael Parise, a ditch digger, and Rose Ruvo, Parise quit school at 14 to support his working-class, first-generation Italian-American family working menial jobs.
Barrel-chested, hard-charging and always pushing to better himself, Parise was selected for aircraft mechanics school in the Navy. He served as an engineer on a B-24 in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Years later, after selling insurance and vacuum cleaners, he put that engineering training to work.
Heeding a personal motto to “believe in God, believe in your country, believe in yourself, and never stop dreaming,” he began his rise to fortune at age 50, divorced and bankrupt, supporting three sons on unemployment checks. He envisioned a “Super-Duper Pooper Scooper” that would deep-clean carpets with steam injection and vacuum suction stronger than the Kirby vacuums he’d sold in Reno from 1956-65. Tinkering relentlessly on the floor of his Reno house in his pajamas for a month, he pieced together the prototype for a dry vacuum, wet vacuum and steam cleaner using $125 worth of plywood, PVC pipe, stainless steel water tanks and hardware parts.
The prototype became the basis for Parise & Sons, based in Stead. Renamed Thermax Inc., the company enjoyed worldwide sales of models of Parise’s electric-powered cleaner. A man of resurgent optimism in the face of adversity, he explained his meteoric rise from seeming failure with a favorite saying, “You never know when a knock is a boost!”
Having been an underdog, Parise reached out to people who were struggling with financial assistance and words of encouragement. In 1978, he launched another adventure: creating an executive airplane with a rear engine that he called the OMAC, for “Old Man’s Aircraft Company.” He flew the plane in ’81 and later sold the company.
Parise was inducted into the Nevada Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 1992. The proclamation cited his “profound impact in birthing several new industries,” specifically the more than $200 million-a-year rental industry for his cleaners.
Parise’s accomplishments included the first Underwriter Laboratories-approved steam cleaner in the world, the patented water-filtration system for the steam cleaner, the patented electrified vacuum hose that was the only electrified vacuum house approved by Underwriter Laboratories for use with a water system, the clear-view recovery steam head, and the Stage Two double-bypass vacuum motor, which he designed with the engineers of Ametek Lamb.