Dyson is one of three children, whose father Alec Dyson died of liver cancer in 1956. Dyson was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, Norfolk, from 1956 to 1965, where he excelled in long distance running: " I was quite good at it, not because I was physically good, but because I had more determination. I learned determination from it.". He then spent one year (1965–1966) at the Byam Shaw School of Art (now the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design), and then studied furniture and interior design at the Royal College of Art (1966–1970) before moving into engineering.
Dyson married Deirdre Hindmarsh in 1968. Her salary as an art teacher partially supported him while he developed his vacuum cleaner. The couple have three children: Emily, Jacob and Sam.
Dyson paid £15 million for Dodington Park, a 300-acre Georgian estate in Gloucestershire, close to Chipping Sodbury. He and his wife also have a £3 million chateau in France, and a town house in Chelsea, London. The Sunday Times Rich List 2008 estimated his fortune at £1.1bn whilst Forbes magazine estimates it at £1 bn.
Dyson was chair of the board of trustees of the Design Museum, "the first in the world to showcase design of the manufactured object", until suddenly resigning in September 2004
The museum at Butler's Wharf on the south bank of the Thames in central London had "become a style showcase" instead of "upholding its mission to encourage serious design of the manufactured object", in his words. The other trustees included Sir Terence Conran, the museum's founder and Lord Palumbo, the former Arts Council chairman.
In 1997 Dyson was awarded the Prince Phillip Designers Prize He was appointed a Knight Bachelor in the New Year's Honours December 2006.
In the late 1970s Dyson had the idea of using cyclonic separation to create a vacuum cleaner that wouldn't lose suction as it picked up dirt. He became frustrated with his Hoover Junior’s diminishing performance: dust kept clogging the bag and so it lost suction. The idea of the cyclones came from the spray-finishing room's air filter in his Ballbarrow factory. While partly supported by his art teacher wife's salary, and after five years and 5,127 prototypes, Dyson launched the 'G-Force' cleaner in 1983. Unfortunately, no manufacturer or related distributor would launch his product in the UK as it would disturb the valuable cleaner-bag market, so Dyson launched it in Japan through catalogue sales. Initially manufactured in bright pink, the G-Force had a selling price of £2,000 (British Equivalent). It won the 1991 International Design Fair prize in Japan. He obtained his first U.S. patent on the idea in 1986 ().
After failing to sell his invention to the major manufacturers, Dyson set up his own manufacturing company. In June 1993 he opened his research centre and factory in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. The product now outsells those of some of the companies that rejected his idea and has become one of the most popular brands in the United Kingdom. In early 2005 it was reported that Dyson cleaners had become the market leaders in the United States by value (though not by number of units sold). Note that the US was introduced to Dyson when Root Cyclone was implemented, so in the US there were no sales of the DC01 - DC05 Dual Cyclone vacuum cleaners. The Dyson Dual Cyclone became the fastest selling vacuum cleaner ever to be made in the UK.
Dyson scientists were determined to create vacuum cleaners with even higher suction. This was achieved by adding a smaller diameter cyclone to give greater centrifugal force. This led to a way of getting 45% more suction than a Dual Cyclone and removing more dust, by dividing the air into 8 smaller cyclones, hence the name Root 8Cyclone. Dyson's breakthrough in the UK market, more than 10 years after the initial idea, was through a TV advertising campaign that emphasized that, unlike its rivals, it did not require the continuing purchase of replacement bags. At that time, the UK market for disposable cleaner bags was £100 million. The slogan of 'say goodbye to the bag' proved more attractive to the buying public than a previous emphasis on the suction efficiency that its technology delivers. Ironically, the previous step change in domestic vacuum cleaner design had been the introduction of the disposable bag - users being prepared to pay extra for the convenience of dustless emptying.
Following his success the other major manufacturers began to market their own bagless vacuum cleaners. Dyson sued Hoover UK for patent infringement and won around $5 million in damages. His manufacturing plant moved from England to Malaysia, for economic reasons and because of difficulty acquiring land for expansion leaving 800 workers redundant. The company's headquarters and research facilities remain in Malmesbury. Dyson later stated that because of the cost savings from transferring production to Malaysia he was able to invest in R&D at Malmesbury. Dyson employs more people in the UK than he did before the transfer of manufacturing to Malaysia.
In 2005, Dyson added the wheel ball from his Ballbarrow concept into a vacuum cleaner, creating the Dyson Ball, claimed to be more manuverable.
In 2003 Dyson expanded his appliance range to include a washing machine. Called "ContraRotator" it had two rotating drums which moved in opposite directions. The range was coloured in the usual bright Dyson colours, rather than the traditional white, grey or black of most other machines. The item did not take off with the public as hoped and is no longer available.
In October 2006 Dyson launched the Dyson Airblade, a fast hygienic hand dryer. The Dyson Digital Motor (DDM) produces an air stream flowing at 400 mph. This unheated air is channeled through a 0.3 millimetre gap, no thicker than an eyelash. A sheet of air acts like an invisible windscreen wiper to wipe moisture from hands.