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What is the history of the broom?

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For centuries, Indigenous peoples have been using brooms to move dirt and ashes out of homes. The first brooms were grasses dried and bundled together, tied with yarn or fabric.

In 1797, Levi Dickenson, a Masschusetts farmer, used a bundle of tasseled sorghum grass (also called broomcom) to make a broom and realized that broomcom was a great material for the manufacturing of these tools. These early broomcom brooms were simply lashed or woven together, so they fell apart often. Eventually, wooden handles were discovered to be the best solution. By about 1810, wooden handles with holes drilled into them were used to lash the broomcom to the handle using wooden pegs.

The United Society of Believers, familiarly called the Shakers, moved into the broom-making business in 1798 by growing broomcom and making brooms. The Shakers' community in New York took the lead in manufacturing brooms, although nearly all the Shaker communities constructed and sold them throughout the century. The Shakers are credited with inventing the flat broom. They recorded that Theodore Bates of Watervliet examined the circular bundled broom and determined that flat brooms would move dust and dirt more efficiently. The bundles were put into a vice, flattened, and sewn in place.

The Shakers led the way in improving the broomcom broom. They appear to be the first to find that wire was better than ties or weaves for securing the broom. They developed treadle machinery to wind broomcorn around the handle while securing it tightly. They also developed special vices to flatten the broom for sewing into a flat shape. Using foot-powered machinery, the Shakers could make twenty-four brooms per person per day, a feat for the early nineteenth century.

The most significant development in the history of the product resulted from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 when tariffs were lifted from broom-corn brooms imported from Mexico. Cheaper than American brooms (labor is cheaper and broomcorn is grown there in huge quantities), the Mexican-made broom importation obliterated many American broomcom manufacturers. American broomcom manufacturers pressed for more restrictive tariffs, but such tariffs were overruled. Today, there are only about 15 broomcorn manufacturers left in the United States.

Sources: "Broom." How Products are Made. Ed. Stacey L. Blachford. Vol. 6. Gale Cengage, 2002. eNotes.com. 

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