About the Broom Makers
The Story of Hockaday Handmade Brooms began in the early 1860’s when Jack Martin’s Great-Great Grandfather Wick Hockaday (on left) moved the family from the Carolina’s to Tennessee and settled on a farm in Selmer, Tennessee in hopes of a better life. Wick Hockaday had nothing to do with the broom making, but he is the reason we are in Tennessee.
Then Jack Martin’s Great Grandfather Will Hockaday came along. Will Hockaday was born around 1877 and grew up working the family farm (about 200 acres); raising corn, cotton and live stock to eat. As Will Hockaday farmed the land he had to learn many things to make a living. At the time it was not uncommon for a person to learn blacksmithing, woodcarving, chair caning, along with any other skill that would help make a living for his family. No one is sure when Will Hockaday made the first broom, we believe it was in the early 1900’s. Will got the idea to grow broomcorn in the summer, and make brooms in the winter. Family lore says he saw the information in the paper, and the following year Will Hockaday is making and selling brooms, from that time on the broom making was just part of the normal winter’s work.Sometime between 1911 and 1914 Will Hockaday found a picture of Broom Making Machinery; which led him to build his own equipment. He took parts off of old farm equipment and built the “Broom Wrapping Table” (called a Kicker Table). This was used to attach the broomcorn to the wood handle and the Broom Press to flatten out the broom, and sew the broom flat. This is the same equipment that I, Jack Martin, still use today. Broom making was not the main stay for Will Hockaday; farming was still the way of life.
Jack Hockaday was born in 1902 (he is Jack Martin’s Grandfather, the one who taught him to be “The Broom Maker”). Jack Hockaday started making brooms around 1915-1916, he couldn’t remember the exact date but he knew he was a young teenager. Jack Hockaday made brooms his whole life, but again farming was his main occupation. Even as a young man starting his own family, (two girls and one boy); he worked the farm in the summer, and made brooms in the winter.
Sometimes there was little money for the family, so they did the next best thing – trade! Jack would trade for food, seed for growing, cloth to make clothes to wear. If you needed a broom and had something to swap, then Jack would trade. Everything moved along on the farm and as time went by one of Jack’s daughters (Mildred Hockaday) met and married a man named Lester Martin. From this union, “Jack the Broom Maker” was born.
Jack Martin was born in 1953 in Selmer, Tennessee. Growing up on the farm Jack knew from the age of 6 that he wanted to be a farmer. Jack loved every single thing about the outdoors. He would ride with his Grandfather on the tractor all day, just so he could play in the dirt. Jack used to watch his Grandfather making brooms and was amazed at how he would put them together, but he never thought about being a broom maker.
About the Broomcorn
The Hockaday family has been growing broomcorn since the early 1900’s. Broomcorn looks just like a normal corn plant but it does not develop an ear of corn, instead it has a long piece of coarse-like straw that grows out of the top of the plant. This straw can grow to anywhere from 12-30 inches long.
I walk through the field and grab the top of the plant and just snap off the straw. Once I pick the broomcorn I lay it out in the sun to dry. This takes approximately one month. Once it is dry, I then take an old fashioned wooden comb, made with nails for teeth, to comb out the the seeds that have collected in the top of the plant. I will get one piece of broomcorn per plant, which means it takes about 200 plants to make one broom. Now you know why it takes me 5 months and 45 minutes to make very broom; 5 months to grow and dry the broomcorn, and 45 minutes to put the broom together.