History Of The Broom
Early American had no brooms, vacuum cleaners or carpet sweepers. They used a bundle of twigs tied to a handle. It was called a “beson” (pronounced BEE-zum). It wasn’t very efficient. It left tracks in the dirt but did not get rid of it.
Ben Franklin planted the first broomcorn seed and made the first brooms–quite as they are made today. He obtained the seed in Hungary. The plant is believed to have originated in Africa, a relative of Kafir and sorghum.
The Amana Colonies had their broommakers along with the other crafts and arts that kept them self-supporting. When the broomcorn was ready to harvest, workers went through the fields breaking over the tops of the stalks by hand. This permitted the pyramid-shaped, loosely-branched flower cluster to dry. Later they were cut from the stalks by hand.
The clusters were threshed to remove the seed for the next year’s crop. After several more weeks of drying, the brush was ready to be sorted and used in making brooms. Amana Colony people make brooms to meet their needs–floor brooms, outdoor brooms, whisk brooms, brushes and pot brooms used in the kitchens, and others.
History Of The Broom In Amana Colonies
Philip Griess was “the blind broom-maker of the Colonies” long before 1932, when the Amana Colony people voted the “Great Change from a communal society to free enterprise. Mr. Griess continued making brooms until 1965, when he retired.
In 1971, Norman and Joanna Schanz decided to revive the broom-making craft in the Amana Colonies, using the old hand-operated machinery which was built with walnut, cherry and maple woods. This machinery was made available to them by William Leichsenring, who had obtained if from Mr. Griess.
The first broommaker chosen by the Schanzes to operate the broom shop was Mr. Theo C. Ressler of Williamsburg. Ted’s wife, Dorothy, helped with the stitching of brooms, decorating of brooms and sales clerking. Since Mr. Ressler’s death and Mrs. Ressler’s retirement, a broommaker has continued to keep the craft alive.
Most days at the Broom and Basket Shop, you can watch a broommaker working on a “kicker” broom winding machine creating brooms.
History Of Baskets In Amana Colonies
When the Amana Colony people journeyed from Germany to Ebenezer, N.Y., and then (in 1854) to Iowa, they brought with them the willows for their baskets. These were not the type that grows wild along waterways, but a cultured variety.
Willow fields were one-eighth to one-quarter of an acre with rows about three feet apart. Fields were cultivated just to keep the weeds down. Willows were harvested each year after a frost, and stored until needed.
Each village had a head basketmaker and as many helpers as he needed to make the necessary baskets. The church elders assigned the basketmaker his helpers. The trade was not necessarily handed down from father to son or mother to daughter.
There were laundry baskets, sewing baskets, garden baskets, baskets in which to carry meals home from the community kitchens if someone was ill, and many others. Most popular sizes were the bushel and half-bushel. Baskets were copied from old baskets, or in some cases patterns were made up.
The Broom and Basket Shop expresses thanks to Philip Dickel of Middle Amana for the willows for their willow patch; for showing us how to grow, harvest and weave the Amana Colony willows into baskets so that the basket weaving craft may continue; for the basket bench, and most of all his generous gift of advise, counsel and information.
Two other types of baskets were made in the Amana Colonies: The splint oak Schaup basket and the coiled straw dough basket. There is an interest also in reviving these two styles of baskets.
We now have baskets made in the colonies using cultured willow, purchased oak splint and reed. Baskets of the area are signed, dated and will have blue pricing tags. Most will also have a tag with additional information on material and basketmaker.