The posting of A New Broom, an elegant paean to the simple corn broom, at Celebrate Your Inner Fabiola! jogged DrHGuy’s memory, the consequence of which is a necessary revision to the recently published list of facts DrHGuy can remember from his 9th grade Oklahoma History course:1
Ongoing readers may recall that, as a result of that nine months of instruction, I learned a plethora of facts and concepts about Oklahoma, of which I remember three:
- The state flower of Oklahoma is the mistletoe, which is actually a parasite.
- The state song of Oklahoma is indeed the title song of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein Broadway musical which shares the same name.
- The capitol building in Oklahoma City is the only US capitol with oil wells on its grounds and construction costs for that same capitol building, the one with the oil wells, exhausted the allotted funding, which precluded building the planned traditional dome.2
For those keeping score at home, that roster is now officially revised to include a fourth item:
New York Times On Oklahoma’s Broom
The prestige accorded this accomplishment can be inferred from this March 5, 1921 New York Times account of the Oklahoma delegation presenting a newly inaugurated President Harding with “a huge broom made of Oklahoma broom corn.”
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,5 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 exceptional6 and told friends and neighbors about it.7
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 and were, consequently, prone to leave smaller particles behind.8
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.
Future Broomcorn Farmers Of America
Those readers hoping to strike it rich by reviving the art and science of growing broomcorn en route to establishing 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 2004.9
Broomcorn And Broom Making (update: site no longer online) 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.
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.
Credit Due Department: Photo atop this post by Tangopaso – Self-photographed, Public Domain, Wikipedia Commons
Note: Originally posted Jan 7, 2008 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com
- 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. [↩]
- The dome was added in 2002, which, as it turns out, was a year or two after I completed my Oklahoma state history course [↩]
- “Oklahoma is” refers to the 1960s, the period during which I memorized this factoid in preparation for an examination. [↩]
- The corn species, Sorghum vulgare technicum, has two acceptable spellings, “broomcorn” and “broom corn.” [↩]
- The brochure itself is, inexplicably, no longer online. The pertinent portion, however, is accessible at the National Gardening Association site [↩]
- 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? [↩]
- Broom Shop [↩]
- See What Is Broomcorn [↩]
- See Arbitral Panel Established Under Chapter Twenty Of The North American Free Trade Agreement [↩]