A History of the Broom

The way things look.
June 6 2012 12:32 PM

How the Broom Became Flat

A history of the sturdy household essential.

(Continued from Page 1)

With the advent of the broom machine and the Shaker design, broom-making’s popularity spread rapidly across the United States, reaching its apex around 1850 when more than 1 million brooms were being constructed each year in Massachusetts alone, and being sold as far away as South America.

broom_05
A 1944 New York broom production facility for the Army and Navy.

Photo by Richard Boyer/Library of Congress.

Eventually, broom-making followed national expansion to the western states, where broomcorn was considered to grow better. By the turn of the 20th century, the industry had significantly declined in the Northeast. Following the larger trends of industrialization in all trades, small broom shops in the United States gradually expanded into factories to meet demand, their manufacturing techniques continuing to require skilled, hands-on labor, until 1994, when NAFTA made Mexican brooms cheaper and forced many American outfits to close. Currently, most of the United States’ natural fiber brooms come from south of the border, with only a few local makers remaining.

standard broom small
This is not always the shape people associated with the word broom.

Thinkstock.

Perhaps the biggest change in the broom world over the last century is the rise of the synthetic lookalike. Following the development of the first synthetic fibers in the 1940s, companies like DuPont started creating filaments and extruded plastic products just in time for the consumer boom of the 1950s and 60s. These technologies were quickly adapted for brooms—especially the school janitor-size, “push” broom varieties—and these styles continue to sell alongside the old natural models today. Many homeowners keep one of each on hand, using the softer, plastic bristles on sensitive hardwoods and the hardier broomcorn for heavier jobs.

broom_08

Rubbermaid Regular Stain Resistant Bristles Angle Broom; Hoover FH50220 Max Extract 60 Blue Carpet Cleaner; Swiffer Sweep & Vac by Procter & Gamble 04815.

Advertisement

The modern homemaker can choose from a range of implements to clean his floors, including synthetic brooms, the constantly metastasizing Swiffer product line, and, of course, the vacuum cleaner. The last of these is highly effective at certain tasks (especially the cleaning of carpets), but most American homes still keep an old-fashioned broom around for its unfailing dependability. For a household item essentially perfected in its design so many decades ago, the broom’s staying power—both as a cleaning tool and cultural symbol of neat domestic tranquility—is remarkable and deserved.

And then there’s just the question of aesthetics: A sturdy broom looks a whole lot nicer than a dirty napkin on flimsy plastic stick.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 21 2014 1:15 PM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 5  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Time Heist."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 2:00 PM Colin Farrell Will Star in True Detective’s Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.