A Brooms, Broomcorn, & Broom Dusting Farrago


Absolutely Fabiola

In October 20071 Fabiola of Celebrate Your Inner Fabiola! posted A New Broom, an elegant paean to the simple corn broom.

This jogged DrHGuy’s memory, the consequence of which is a necessary revision to the recently published DrHGuy’s list of recalled facts from his 9th grade Oklahoma History course:2

As a result of that geographical aberration in my family’s otherwise unbroken all-Missouri all the time streak extending back at least three generations, I learned a plethora of facts and concepts about Oklahoma, of which I remember four:

  1. The state flower of Oklahoma is the mistletoe, which is actually a parasite.
  2. The state song of Oklahoma is indeed the title song of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein Broadway musical which shares the same name.
  3. The capitol building in Oklahoma City is the only US capitol with oil wells on its grounds3
  4. Construction costs for that same capitol building, the one with the oil wells, exhausted the allotted funding, which precluded building the planned traditional dome.4

For those keeping score at home, that roster is now officially revised to include a fifth item:

5. Oklahoma is5 one of the top 3 states in the production of broomcorn.6

New York Times March 5, 1921

The prestige of this accomplishment can be inferred from this New York Times account of the Oklahoma delegation presenting a newly inaugurated President Harding with “a huge broom made of Oklahoma broom corn.”

New York Times March 5, 1921

The serendipitous convergence of Fabiola’s boom post and DrHGuy’s improbable recollection of that ancient cognitive artifact of Sooner State pride proved the trigger to the exploration of ostensibly related subjects, presented here in no particular order and with no promise of significance.

The American History Of The Broomcorn Broom

Benjamin Franklin is credited by most sources as the man responsible for broomcorn first being produced in the United States.

On September 15, 1962, The Forest Preserve District of Cook County Illinois published Nature Bulletin No. 685, Broomcorn And Broom Making, which includes this excerpt describing Mr. Franklin’s contribution:

Back in the late 1700’s, Benjamin Franklin found a small seed on a whisk broom that a friend had brought him from France for dusting his beaver hat. Next spring he planted that seed and it grew into a tall corn-like plant with a flowering brush of stiff fibers bearing seeds. From these more were grown for several years as a garden novelty in Philadelphia.

In 1797, Levi Dickenson, a farmer from Hadley, Massachusetts, wound the tassels of a variety of sorghum, a grain he was growing for the seeds, to make a broom for his wife. She thought Levi’s broom exceptional7 and told friends and neighbors about it.8

And, Mrs. Dickenson was onto something. Broomcorn brooms were a significant improvement over their predecessors, brooms manufactured from bundled straw, which fell apart with only a few uses, or clusters of twigs from trees such as the birch, which were sturdy enough but couldn’t be compacted as were the bristles of straw or broomcorn.

Consequently, these twig brooms, such as the one shown on the right, were prone to leave smaller particles behind.9

Broomcorn, on the other hand, made a broom that could sweep away dust and get into the crevices between paving stones and floorboards.

Considering that city streets were filled with undesirable debris like horse manure and household garbage, the advent of broomcorn brooms is considered a major advance in public health.10

Future Broomcorn Farmers Of America

Those readers hoping to strike it rich by reviving the art and science of growing broomcorn en route to establishling a broomcorn agri-empire will be interested to learn that, according to the Purdue Department of Horticulture, “Normal broomcorn yields range from 300 to 600 lb/acre, or enough to make 150 to 350 brooms/acre.”

Broomcorn baron wannabes should also be aware that, under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico was granted Favored Nation status and, consequently, the U.S. Tariff Quota on Broom Corn Brooms, in effect since 1965 was phased out for all imports of broom corn brooms, including whisk brooms, no later than 2004.11

Broomcorn And Broom Making traces the migration of the main broomcorn-growing regions westward until the 1960s when they were centered in Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. Since then broomcorn farming and broom manufacturing diminished dramatically in this country.

A sense of the importance of this industry in the past can be garnered from this headline featured on the May 22, 1904 New York Times:

The Musical, Magical, and Metaphorical Brooms

While brooms have dwindled in significance a a crop and economic force, they nonetheless thrive in certain realms.

Aphorisms and quotations, for example, are replete with brooms:

  • “Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession.” Mohandas Gandhi
  • “The only man who makes money following the races is one who does it with a broom and shovel” Elbert Hubbard
  • “A new broom sweeps clean, but the old broom knows the corners” Irish Sayings quotes

Consider the traditional witch’s transport

… and Harry Potter’s Firebolt.

And Firebolt begat – illegitimately – a very special broom for the girls, described, for example, at The Morning News and Utterpants,

Perhaps best of all, however, is the Robert Johnson blues number, “Dust My Broom:”

And I’m gettin’ up in the morning, I believe I’ll dust my broom,
I’m gettin’ up in the morning, I believe I’ll dust my broom,
Girl friend, the black man you been loving’, girl friend, can get my room.

I’m gonna call up China, see is my good girl over there.
I can’t find her on Philippines Islands, she must be in Ethiopia somewhere

  1. Yes, DrHGuy is a tad behind schedule. 2007 was not the Year Of The DrHGuy, who, in fact, spent most of that 365 day span in survival mode. Hunkered down, it turns out, is not the posture most conducive to literary production. []
  2. The list revision is a necessity because, as it well known, DrHGuy has too much integrity and respect for his readers not to alert them to such changes, however trivial or obscure, in his autobiographical data. That’s just the kind of DrHGuy he is. []
  3. I even recall that at one time there were 24 oil wells operating around the capitol, a fact I just confirmed at The (Oklahoma City) Journal Record, Jul 26, 2001. []
  4. The dome was added in 2002, which, as it turns out, was a year or two after I completed my Oklahoma state history course []
  5. “Oklahoma is” refers to the 1960s, the period during which I memorized this factoid in preparation for an examination. []
  6. The corn species, Sorghum vulgare technicum, has two acceptable spellings, “broomcorn” and “broom corn.” []
  7. DrHGuy’s investigations have not yielded the most vital information about this transaction; e.g., was the broom given in commemoration of a special occasion such as a wedding anniversary or was it a simple nonobligatory “I love you” gesture? Were comments perhaps muttered that were not recorded and lost to history, perhaps something along the lines of “Levi, the broom is very nice, one of the best I’ve ever been blessed to use, but I was hoping for a bolt of linen or a comb of honey or maybe a new ox?” Or was 1797 part of a Golden Era during which wives were appreciative of the husbands’ gifts, even if they were kitchen appliances? []
  8. Broom Shop []
  9. See What Is Broomcorn []
  10. See What Is Broomcorn []
  11. See Arbitral Panel Established Under Chapter Twenty Of The North American Free Trade Agreement []
  1. Pingback: Dust my broom at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog

  2. Fabiola takes a moment away from sweeping the edges of her carpets to thank DrHGuy for the mention (and the excellent and fascinating corn broom facts).

    Fabiola is completely delighted with her broom, with the singular exception of the fact that Fabiola’s Fella invariably laughs then asks Fabiola where she is going, when he happens upon her with broom in hand.

    One of these days, the Fella is going to discover that corn brooms really CAN fly.