What is the history and manufacturing process of brooms?
That brooms have been around since ancient times is evinced in a passage from New Testament in which a woman, having lost a piece of silver in her house, sweeps all around as she searches for it. Certainly, brooms have not always appeared as they do now. Roughly fashioned from straw or twigs or whatever materials were at hand, the broom was constructed by tying twine or rope around these materials which covered a wooden stick.
Broom-making as a trade was not begun until the days of Anglo-Saxon England in the southeastern region where "besom squires" fashioned brooms from twigs of birch trees that were then tied to chestnut wood. In fact, this method is still used today as a heritage craft. But, the rise in interest of growing a crop of tasseled grace scientifically called sorghum vulgare, brought about the creation of the modern broom. This grass had heretofore just been used as animal feed, but one farmer in Massachusetts fashioned a broom using this crop for his wife and it was more effective as well as durable. In 1797 Gregory H. Nobles peddled some extra brooms to his neighbors and soon found himself in business. Other farmers soon joined this trade, and in 1906 a machine was constructed which would hold the twine taunt while the broom maker fashioned the broom.
It was not until a Christian sect called Shakers began making brooms that the flat bottom of the modern broom came into being. They found that instead of making a round broom, they could secure the broomcorn with wire and flatten it with a vice while they sewed it tight and cut the bottom. This method resulted in a superior cleaning tool as a straight bottom allowed more efficient sweeping of larger areas. The Shakers also designed the whisk broom for cleaning smaller areas. These designs, then, are almost the same as those of modern brooms.
The broom-making industry moved from the Northeastern United States to the Western states when it was discovered that the broom grass grew well in places such as Colorado. By the turn of the twentieth century, broom shops turned into factories except for a few small industries such as the Industries for the Blind where brooms are made by the visually impaired. Also, the Lions' Club is an organization that has traditionally sold brooms made by small concerns such as the afore-mentioned. After 1994, NAFTA sent broom-making to Mexico, so most of the corn brooms come from this country.
Synthetic brooms were introduced in the 1950's and 1960's by DuPont and other companies. These brooms are composed of filaments and softer plastic bristles which are often used on hardwood floors. Of course, there are many varieties and sizes nowadays as people use brooms to sweep out garages and sweep large cement floors in shops and factories.
Broom - Definition
A broom is a cleaning tool consisting of stiff fibers attached to, and roughly parallel to, a cylindrical handle, the broomstick. It is commonly used in combination with a dustpan.
What are Brooms used for?
Brooms are basically used as a common household and offices item that is used for cleaning floors and removing dust.
Brooms Styles Being Manufactured:
- House brooms (House brooms are soft-sweeping brooms and come in standard and kitchen size. They are offered with a choice of two top binding finishes, a double leather flax twine weave or single leather.)
- Hearth Brooms (Handles have been given a rustic, distressed appearance and their length can be adjusted to match companion fireplace tool sets. The woven top is standard.)
- Hearth Brooms with Embossed Leather "Facer" (Initially designed with Native American imagery and decor for use in Tipi, or Teepee lodges, this leather faced style quickly broadened out to include imagery and embossing to capture themes related to the Frontier, the West, the Outdoors and the Outdoor Sportsman. Maxed out with leather these are prepared to hang out at any fireplace hearth. The leather "facers" are securely stitched on by hand to both sides and are guaranteed to stay on.)
- Camper brooms (A handy size broom suitable for use in a camper these brooms are smaller versions of the House style. They are designed for smaller areas; to get in tighter places.)
- Whisk Brooms (Useful in a workshop, a car or truck, and perfect for dustpans these are offered with or without the leather sheath. This size with the handle left long makes for a very useful broom for accessing really tight, hard to get places.)
- “Bow Tie” Whisk (It offers two bristled ends with different stiffness’s. With an attached leather loop it may hang from the golf bag for convenient access.)
- Carpet Brooms
- Standard Brooms
- Warehouse Brooms
- Parlor brooms
Brooms are manufactured through 2 ways:
- Man – Made (Man-made bristles are generally of extruded plastic and metal handles.
- Natural Material (Natural-material brooms may be constructed of a variety of materials, including brush, but generally include stiff grasses such as broomcorn and/or sotol fiber.)
- Some brooms are made from vegetable fibers such as palmyra stalks, rice straw, piassava, rice root, and even grass, sedge, and twigs in certain parts of the world.
Natural Material brooms are of two types:
- Broom corn (Broomcorn brooms are the most expensive of the manufactured brooms, Broomcom brooms have been made for at least 200 years and are considered superior brooms. The most widely available fiber, and generally the best for most types of brooms, is obtained from broomcorn.)
- Plastic Brooms (Plastic brooms merely move dirt around, however, broomcom stalks actually absorb dirt and dust, wear extremely well, and are moisture-resistant.)
Broomcom is actually a variety of upright grass of the species sorghum referred to as Sorghum vulgare, or S. bicolor variety technicum, belonging to the family Gramineae and cultivated for its stiff stems. Broom bristles are derived when these stiff, tasseled branches—that bear seeds on the ends—are harvested and dried. The seeds are edible, starchy, and high in carbohydrates. They can be used for human consumption (in cereals) or for animal feed. The tasseled stalks, used in the manufacture of brooms, can grow 2-8 ft (0.61-2.4 m) tall. Sorghum is especially valued in hot and arid climates due to its resistance to drought.
Mexico grows and processes most of the broomcom and sotol fiber used in American broom production. Sotol fiber, a yucca fiber, is sometimes used on the inside of the broom and is wrapped with more expensive broomcom, thus lowering the price of the natural-bristle broom.
The production of broomcom brooms is still largely a craft production with a single operator working quickly at a machine, making brooms by hand. There have been some changes in the manufacture of broomcom brooms within the last several decades, but those changes have been very minor. Essentially, the handcraft has changed little since mid-twentieth century.
Brooms were often used in matrimony rituals to symbolize a union.. Enslaved African-Americans married one another in a civil ceremony referred to as "jumping the broom" in which the couple would literally jump over a broom to signify matrimony. Today, African-Americans occasionally recreate this custom by jumping over a broom at weddings, using specially handmade and decorated brooms for this purpose. These brooms then become a centerpiece within the new household.
Ashes and dirt were moved around and out of the house using bundled branches and brush for centuries. Native grasses were dried and bundled together, often decoratively woven at the top or tied tightly with yarn or fabric to keep the brooms together. Southerners have used native sweet grass and other grasses for their long stalks with tasseled ends for broom bristle. The course of American broom history was altered in the late eighteenth century, when some say that in 1797 Levi Dickenson, a farmer from Hadley, Massachusetts, used a bundle of tasseled sorghum grass (also called broomcom) to make a broom for his wife. It is likely these early broomcom brooms were simply lashed or woven together, resulting in the fact that they often fell apart.
Whether Levi Dickenson was the first American to use sorghum to make brooms is in contention. However, nearly all acknowledge that the United Society of Believers, familiarly called the Shakers, quickly moved into the broom-making business about 1798 by growing broomcom and making brooms. The Shakers' Watervliet, New York, community 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 more effectively secured the broomcom to the wooden handle rather than tying or weaving. They developed treadle machinery to wind broomcorn around the handle while securing it tightly. They developed special vices to flatten the broom for sewing into the requisite flat shape. Still other machinery was devised to quickly separate the seeds of the broomcom from the tassel bristles. Using foot-powered machinery, the Shakers could make two dozen brooms per person per day—quite a feat for the early nineteenth century.
Today, the machinery is electrically powered. However, in even the largest American broom factory, the production of broomcom brooms is still remarkably a hand craft. (One factory foreman in a large broomcom factory says he can pick up a broom and tell who amongst his staff made it because each one is made according to the skills and preferences of the maker.) A single machine and operator sits at a machine and constructs a broom. The machines, and the methods, have not changed in over 40 years.
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.
Early American Brooms
Handcrafted by Warren Olney
The art of making brooms is a unique craft with American history roots. Our historic brooms are excellent sweepers, making great gifts for weddings (African American tradition of Jumping the Broom), house warmings, log home hearth brooms and even wizard brooms for Harry Potter fans. They are also ideal for Colonial, Shaker and Early American heritage home decoration. Wicca, witch and occult followers also prize these brooms.
Warren Olney ties quality handmade brooms on natural or manufactured handles and on blacksmith's forged iron handles. He can also weave brooms on custom handles and replace worn out brooms on customer's handles. All his brooms are made for actual use although many folks use them for home decor.
At this time, many people grew flax and retted the very strong fibers, spinning them into thread for fabric used in making clothes, tablecloths and napkins. (Today we call tablecloths and napkins, linens for the fiber used in their making.) Coarser fibers were spun into cordage used around the home and farm, including the making of brooms for the family’s hearth.
The Manufacturing Process
The production processes in broom manufacture include:
The raw material for the broom, the broomcorn, comes into the factory already processed and bundled. The bundles are sorted by length and are sorted by the color of the fiber. Bundles are grouped together in a bale weighing about 120 lb (54 kg). Broomcom must be wet in order to be worked effectively and must be quickly dunked in water before being delivered to the operator. Each bale is lifted with a crane and submerged in a tank of water for 10 seconds. The bundles are then removed from the water using the crane.
Workers break apart the wet bales and separate the smaller bundles within the bales. The bundles are placed on racks and rolled to operators who sit at broom-manufacturing equipment.
An operator sits at a broom-making machine and has the broomcom and solid handles there to work. An individual handle is picked up by the operator. The operator inserts a metal wire into a hole drilled near the bottom of the handle. Then, the insides are first applied to the broom. In this process, the lowest-grade grass is pressed around the wooden handle, forming the center of the broom. This thick bundle of grass is secured tightly to the handle using the wire attached to the handle through the hole.
- Preliminary seeding
Then, the shoulders and sides of the broom are given shape as smaller bundles of lesser grade grasses are placed along each side of the center bundle of grass. This side corn is secured to the central bundle of grass using more tinned wire that is wrapped by hand tightly around the side corn as well as the central body of grass.
Next, the grass is cut off in a straight line just above the wire by the operator using a knife.
Over this foundation of lower-grade d broomcom or other grasses is now added the outside of the broom, or the broomcom we see when we look at a broom. The hurl, the best grade of broomcom used in a broom, is attached to the broom. It is laid atop the center section and shoulders, completely covering it. The hurl is physically attached to the broom using the same piece of white metal wire used earlier in the process.
- Final scraping/ Run Down
The final construction step is referred to as the run down. The operator runs the wire that secures the hurl down to the handle and nails it off, thus securing the cut end to the wooden handle. The grasses and broom-corn are now completely secured to the broom.
The brooms are now constructed but are not finished yet. In order to complete the broom, the broomcom must be dried out completely. The brooms are moved by rack or palette into a very large drying room that is thermostatically controlled. Depending on the weather, the brooms are left in this large, hot room for five to six hours. When instruments inside the room indicate that no more moisture is being released from the brooms, the heat kicks off and the broomcom has completely dried.
The brooms are now seeded, meaning that cylinders roll vertically over the broomcom, thus removing all the seeds and small pieces of broomcorn not secured to the handle that will fall out quickly upon use.
- Trimming /Labeling
The seeded brooms are taken to sewing machine operators who run the brooms through a heavy-duty sewing machine with two needles that is threaded with thick twine. The brooms are put through the machine and the broom is flattened and its shape is maintained through the double, triple, or quadruple rows of sewing (depending on the machine and company) that holds the grasses tightly. It takes about 45 seconds to sew the brooms into a flat shape.
The brooms are moved by cart to final finishing, where they are trimmed across the bottom so they are even, packaged, and sent for distribution.
It is important to note that brooms made from broomcorn are made at a station, using a single piece of machinery. Using this machine, brooms are largely still assembled by hand. The process described below is used by the largest manufacturer of brooms and the factory uses about 28 makers to produce 6,000 brooms per day.