In the early part of the 20th century, a new manufacturing business opened in Xenia.
The Hunt Broom Factory opened for business in 1918. The business was located at 138 Dayton Avenue (now the home of W. A. Hammond Drierite).
Before it was known as the Hunt Broom Factory, the business was owned and operated by C.E. Arbogust. The factory was located adjacent to the Xenia Work House and therefore Arbogust utilized prison labor in the manufacture of his brooms. Originally brooms were made to be round (think of a witch’s broom) fastened with twine to a broom stick. Later they took on the more traditional appearance.
When Mr. and Mrs. Edward H. Hunt purchased the factory in 1918, they were determined to hire only skilled labor. Not long after they bought the business, the work house was closed and they were able to purchase that building as well.
Hunt had for many years owned and operated a successful bicycle shop. It was said that people came from great distances to purchase his bikes and to have him do the necessary repairs to keep them in good working order. An advertisement which appeared in the December 1910 newspaper suggests there were other items available in the store as well. The ad suggested a particular type of lamp as a Christmas gift.
Automobiles were becoming the normal means of transportation, so it was determined that a bicycle shop might not be as profitable as in previous years so the Hunts purchased the broom factory.
The factory proved to be beneficial to the entire community because the raw products necessary for the making of brooms was readily available from local farmers as well as farmers in nearby states.
“Broom Corn,” as the raw product was called, does not resemble the traditional corn we see but looked more like sheaves of wheat. It is a long stalk which is very thin, but firm enough to provide material for a sturdy broom.
The process involved fastening the broom corn to a broom stick. Then it was placed into a device which resembled a large vice and flattened to a shape that one would normally expect to see in a broom. During the time the broom was in the vice, skilled workmen would take long needles laced with twine to bind the broom from the handle to about three or four inches into the “corn.” Then it would be cut with a knife or other sharp device to make the desired shape.
The work was tedious, but a skilled worker would have made several brooms in a day’s work.
The process of making a broom required complete attention. The men usually wore thick gloves to protect their hands, however if a worker was distracted a needle which required some force to put through, the corn might get pushed into a hand which could have been a serious injury, so the work was not without stress.
As the business grew, the company was able to purchase machinery which made the process considerably easier and ultimately safer for the workers. Sewing machines designed for the purpose and power winders took the place of the old fashioned presses, making the job much faster for the workers, thus production increased.
Handles were made on the premises and painted a variety of bright colors and of course the name “Hunt” appeared on each broom.
During the time that business was at its best, as many as 50 workers were busy an entire day, producing enough brooms to satisfy the demand. When the factory closed on July 12, 1941, there were about 25 full-time employees.
The factory manufactured regular long-handled household brooms as well as whisk brooms. Of course, then as now, little girls liked to emulate their mothers so a large number of child-sized brooms were manufactured as well.
As a business woman, Hunt was before her time. She became the traveling salesperson for the factory, enlisting business in various parts of the country. She was quite successful in her venture because a large number of chain stores and five and dime stores in the eastern part of the country carried Hunt Brooms.
While she traveled, Edward Hunt supervised the everyday workings at the factory.
They lived in a house on Dayton Avenue, not far from the factory. As the business grew they entered other venues including the construction of a building which later became the A&P Super Market, also located on Dayton Avenue.
The factory provided many jobs for local labor and certainly many homes owned and used Hunt Brooms.
If you are interested in seeing an old broom press, the kind which was operated by hand, there is one on display at the Greene County Historical Society. You will also see an iron jail door which was originally at the old Work House.
For more than 20, Xenia was known as a major manufacturer of household brooms, whisk brooms and child-sized brooms which were of quality workmanship. Many housewives would purchase no other brand.
Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.