History of Brooms

Know Your Broom History

Broom Making is a Heritage Craft that is still being presented at many arts and craft festivals across the United States. The art of broom making has a rich history that helped develop our country during the Industrial Revolution.

American brooms were hand made prior to 1797. They were an unrefined round broom made from fiberous materials such as grass, straw or hay, fine twigs or corn husks. The broom sweep was tied onto a tree branch for a handle. Cordage used to tie the broom was retted from hemp and flax. Rougher fibers were used to make the cordage that tied a broom. The refined fibers were used for linens.

Cooking at the time was often done in a large open fireplace and dust and ashes were a factor of life. Wood was carried inside the home for heat and cooking. Dust, debri and ash were always left behind from this chore. The home made brooms swept clean the cabin and hearth and kept the home a more pleasant place to be.

The unrefined brooms were inferior and fell apart easily. Their crude nature did not allow them to sweep well. Changes started to come about in the form of a farmer from Massachusetts in 1797. Levi Dickenson used the tassels from his harvested sorghum to make a broom. His sorghum broom swept better than previous materials used, but the broom still fell apart after a time of use.

Broom shops began popping up in many communities after the invention of the foot-treadle broom machine in 1810. The treadle machine became an essential part of the Industrial Revolution. Customers now had a choice of buying a smaller handled broom for use in tight areas around the fireplace or a long handle one to sweep the open wood or dirt floors in their homes and shops.

The less ornate, yet fine craftsmanship of the Shaker’s changed the design of the round broom in the mid- 1820′s. They eliminated the woven stems up the handle and introduced wire to bind their brooms to the handle. Using a vise they used linen twines to sew the broom flat as is the style of brooms made today.

By about 1830, the United States was producing enough brooms to begin exporting to other countries. Canada, South America and Europe were delighted in the quality brooms, but England’s Broom Squires were able to obtain an embargo against Yankee made brooms and held the competition at bay for a time. Eventually our brooms were permitted into England, bringing an end to the twig broom business there.

As people moved west, the broom industry expanded with them. The climate was conducive to growing broom corn exceptionally well in the mid-west. Small broom shops did very well in communities that had no close access to the rail road or ship transport.

The many settlers moving west found a need for a well made broom once they settled down into their new homes. The broom industry continued to grow with the development of large factories. At the time tens of thousands of acres of broomcorn was grown annually in the United States.

Broom making equipment and technology developed in the United States can be found throught out the world. The tassels from broom corn is still used in quality brooms. Our broom industry thrived until 1994 when foreign brooms were permitted into the United States, duty free.

Today, Mexico is the largest supplier of commercially grown broom corn to U.S. broom makers. The few remaining small broom factories strive to compete with Mexican-made brooms while individual broom makers are crafting a few thousand high quality brooms each year for those consumers who still value fine handmade workmanship in a heritage craft.

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