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Updated on August 23, 2010

Brushes and Brooms are implements made of bristles and used for sweeping, scrubbing, brushing, and painting. Brushes usually have shorter handles than brooms, and some brushes, such as power-driven rotary brushes, have no handles at all.

Photo by Adrian Gtz
Photo by Adrian Gtz

History of the Broom and Brush

The first known brush or broom, called the besom broom, which consisted of a bundle of twigs tied to a wood handle, was used by cavemen. It led to the development of the corn broom, and of the whisk broom and fiber broom which are used today. The first hair-bristle brushes were swatches of animal skin, with the hairs still intact. Later, bundles of hog hairs were tied to sticks. Next tufts of bristle were set into holes in a stick and secured with pitch.

The ancient Egyptian, Mayan, Incau, and Chinese cultures employed reeds as brushes. The Egyptians made paintbrushes by soaking the ends of reeds in water to separate the fibers. In Greece, more than 2,500 years ago, the hare's foot, set in wood, was used to apply makeup. The early Greek artists used brushes made of the tails and feet of animals. In China brushes were used for calligraphy as early as 300 b. c.

The brush-making industry was well developed in Europe before the Renaissance. In the early 15th century the Italian painter Cennino Cennini wrote a treatise on painting in which he described the making of brushes, including the artists' miniver brush, which was made from the winter coat of ermine. Miniver brushes were preferred by most of the great masters of the Renaissance. Cennini also contrasted artists' paintbrushes with other paintbrushes and gave instructions for making a large brush with a pound of bristles to be used for whitening walls. The so-called "pound brush" came to be widely used and is still in use today.

In America brush making was primarily a household industry until the beginning of the 20th century. However, the Adams Brush Company (Boston) began making brushes before 1800 by the wiredrawn technique. In this method a wood block was drilled with small holes, and a tuft of folded bristles was inserted into each hole. A fine-gauge wire was threaded through the bristle loops, holding them securely, and a wood cover was glued on the back of the block.

An early U. S. brush patent, probably issued in 1830, was for a paintbrush in which the bristles were held in the handle with pegs. All the flag ends (split ends of bristles) were exposed, which increased the paint-carrying capacity of the brush and made it soft. The twisted-in-wire technique was patented by H. Aiken of Dracut, Mass., in 1830. McClintock Young developed the technique of stapling bristles to the handle in Frederick, Md., in 1887, paving the way for mass production of the wiredrawn brush.


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