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Lesson 3) A History of Broom Flight
Welcome, class! Take a seat in the grass, and feel free to seat yourselves next to a broom you think looks particularly interesting! We’ll be using this field of broomsticks as visual aides today as we talk about the history of brooms from the very beginnings, to the creation of the first racing broom (and all the corporate competition that came with it) to the future, wherever that may take us! Of course, that means we must start at the beginning…
Long, Long Ago
The broom is one of the easiest and cheapest ways for wizards to get around, other than their own two feet. Because of this, wizards have used brooms for over a millennia, particularly in Europe, with the first documented use coming from Germany in 962 C.E., though the description seems to imply that it was not a new invention, and it appeared to have been something used for some time already. However, I highly doubt you’d recognize what they were riding as brooms. Streamlining was certainly not something of high priority, nor sanding, and so riders often suffered for the convenience, experiencing pins and needles as their rear or legs fell asleep or picking splinters out of their general “seat area” and hands, just to name a few complications. They were also neither fast nor maneuverable. They went a single speed (quite slow), and couldn’t even turn! You had to point it in the direction you were going, mount it and then take off as the crow flies. Any corrections in course needed to be done by landing and starting again.
Surprisingly, the broom’s development continued on like this with a few minor improvements, though with most achievements in design were lost as quickly as they were discovered, as at this time, everyone enchanted or built their own brooms rather than mass producing them. A particular person in your area might be well-known for their broom-making prowess, and you might exchange some potions supplies for a well-made broom, but it was not a trade that was properly taught or a skill that was passed down generations. However, that changed in 1829 with Elliot Smethwyck’s invention of the Cushioning Charm. While it was applied to a host of things, one of the first were broomsticks, and with the immense discomfort of broom travel significantly alleviated, it became used more and more frequently. Naturally, in using brooms more often, it became necessary to monitor their use and establish regulations for what you could (and could not) fly, and thus Broom Regulatory Control was born in 1880, which would eventually become the founding office of the larger Department of Magical Transportation, which we discussed earlier.
From there, further improvements were called for and many saw this burgeoning market as an opportunity. Small, independently owned broom-makers officially took off in 1879 with Elias Grimstone and his Oakshaft 79 as the first, but with dozens more quickly joining him to flesh out the ranks. These private “companies” were usually a one-person outfit, meaning that one person made every single broom by hand, and they typically made only one kind of broom. This made them costly commodities and resulted in a lot of turn-over in the industry. No one company was able to build an empire of patented techniques and secrets. That is, until the Cleansweep Broom Company came along in the 1920s. But before we start that topic, we’ll take a brief look at what the Oakshaft 79, the Moontrimmer, and the Scarlet Sunrise meant for Broom Regulatory Control and how these first broomsticks (as well as those created today) are tested for quality.
As mentioned last week, Broom Regulatory Control oversees the business side of brooms as well. In addition to monitoring broom flight in the country, they make strict rules for any company that produces brooms to sell to the public. We don’t have time to go over every rule and regulation in place, but I will give you a quick overview. Once private individuals began to sell handmade brooms to the public as a business, this office was created to oversee the production to make sure certain safety standards were met. Over the years, the tests developed along with the broomsticks themselves, until we have the process we know and love today, which I will briefly go over.
When a company wants to create a new broom, they must first get a permit through the Dept. of Magical Transportation and, eventually, they must create a prototype to present for an inspection. After a bevy of diagnostic tests (such as a twig thickness tests and automatic braking inspections) an eternity of prodding, and of course a test ride or twelve, the company has the green light to move on to mass-producing the brooms. However, if any issues are found (such as brooms that buck above 160 kilometers per hour) the company must cease production and create a new prototype. It bears mentioning that this is a very long process, and very rarely will the first prototype of any new model pass inspection. The record for the highest number of prototypes, I believe, is still held by the Air Wave Gold (a model made by the now-defunct Golden Horizons), which needed 23 attempts before they got it just right! After this, Broom Regulatory Control will always inspect ten randomly selected brooms from the production line to ensure quality control.
A Who’s Who of Brooms
Now, the part you’ve all been waiting for, I expect: a look at the various shapes and sizes of company-produced brooms from the earliest attempts to high-speed racers hot off the presses! Currently, there are six different broom companies that run out of the U.K. These are the Cleansweep Broom Company, the Comet Trading Company, Ellerby and Spudmore, Flyte and Barker, the Nimbus Racing Broom Company, and Thunderbolt Products. There have been others in the past, such as Universal Brooms Limited and Golden Horizons, that have come and gone, and there are of course international broom-making companies, but these five represent the current players in the business in Great Britain. We’ll take just a moment to talk about each in turn, as well as some of their more famous models.
Cleansweep Broom Company
Founded in 1926 by a trio of brothers (Barnaby, Bill, and Bob Ollerton), the Cleansweep Company was the first to mass produce brooms for the public. Prior, brooms were often highly expensive, special order pieces that only professionals or the exceptionally wealthy could afford. However, this changed nearly overnight with the creation of the Cleansweep One. While not an altogether exciting broom by modern standards, this is the broom that changed it all! These flew off of shelves and into homes -- soon everyone wanted their very own broom! Of course, they did not perform as well as your average racing broom, but its affordability was what caught the eye.
Over the years, the Cleansweep Company has continued tweaking their designs and producing various models from different lines, like the Silver Arrow range as well as their more popular Cleansweep line, of which the most recent model is the Cleansweep Eleven (though work on the twelve is said to have reached promising prototype stages). While not a flashy broom company, Cleansweep continues to stand by their motto of affordable, universal broomflight for all, and are considered the benchmark of the average family broom and hold their own remarkably well in non-professional Quidditch matches.
Comet Trading Company
The story of this company actually begins with the Falmouth Falcons, as two of the team’s former members went on to found it just three years after the Ollerton brothers started their business. Comet’s founders (Randolph Keitch and Basil Horton), were often accused of copying Cleansweep’s designs (though none of these claims were ever substantiated and may indeed have been started by Cleansweep to damage the opposition’s reputation). Whatever the truth of the matter, there's no denying that the two companies were locked in a heated battle for business for the first forty years of production.
Comet’s first broom, known as the Comet 140, was so wildly successful because of its new, patented Horton-Keitch Braking Charm (which has since been improved and continues to be applied to all Comet models). This allowed broom riders far more control over their movements as they were able to brake much more quickly, which was marketed as both a safety feature and an indispensable help on the pitch. The company takes a bit longer to produce new models, though it’s widely recognized that each new one is an enormous leap forward in broom technology, with the newest Comet 340 as a prime example. Having come out in 2018, the broom boasts an anti-theft cloaking mechanism, a cushioned area twice the size as its predecessor (without affecting drag), and can turn on a Knut thanks to the advancements of the braking charms applied.
Ellerby and Spudmore
Created by the titular Hazel Ellerby and Able Spudmore, the company opened to little fanfare in 1939. As the competition between Comet and Cleansweep was so fierce, many thought there wasn’t room in the market for a third broom company. This claim seemed to be solidified by the poor-to-middling commercial success of the business’s first broom, the Tinderblast, which came out a year after their founding. While it was, to be sure, a well-made broom and angled at racing, simply being good enough was not enough to set them apart and draw the attention of fiercely loyal Cleansweep or Comet buyers. This trend was continued with their release of the Swiftstick in 1952 and the Barkdart in 1971.
The main drawback of Ellerby and Spudmore brooms was that the first three models had been plagued by technical limitations that kept them off of the Quidditch pitch and therefore out of the public eye. No one’s Quidditch hero was photographed astride a Spudmore. Still, the company continued on, and focused more on durability, longevity, and increasing safety for multiple passengers, earning it popularity as a family broom that could transport the whole group back and forth as needed. However, this changed a bit when Randolph Spudmore, one of the founder's sons, was finally allowed to premiere his first prototype: the Firebolt.
The Firebolt broke records when it was put on shelves in 1993, selling 1,000 brooms in just three months. Part of this popularity was due to Spudmore’s clever deal he had cut with the Irish national Quidditch team, whose use of the broom made it a superstar overnight. The broom’s reputation was well-earned, though, and was matched in the production of the broom’s successor, the Firebolt Supreme in 2014. While extraordinarily expensive, the broom still has booming sales, though the company still does make family brooms as well, such as the most recent, oft-overlooked, Fleetwood.
Flyte and Barker
One of the later additions to the forum of broomsticks is Flyte and Barker, the brainchild of retired Quidditch player Alatar Barker and avid magical inventor Margery Flyte, in 1990. Initially, they had high hopes for creating a broomstick that could unseat the productions of the formidable Nimbus Racing Broom Company (more on them in just a moment). However, the production of their first model -- the Twigger 90 -- was rushed and while it of course passed Broom Regulatory Control standards (or else it wouldn’t have been on the market), it had a number of quirks. For example, the Twigger 90, meant to be self-parking, would occasionally begin to slow to a stop if the rider unseated themselves from the broom to do a tricky standing maneuver (which was inconvenient to say the least). Additionally, the system of controls, which was supposed to be revolutionary, was quite counterintuitive, requiring mental gymnastics to get the broom to perform simple maneuvers like turning, speeding up, and slowing down. The final nail in the coffin was that to cover production costs, Flyte and Barker had to make their brooms out of less durable materials, while still pricing it high enough to cover their costs, which meant the brooms, while expensive, warped over time, particularly if used in the rain. The result was a unique reputation that only continued with later models like the Chipper 200, and their most recent QuitchTricks 1, whose claim to fame is that it comes with pre-programmed Quidditch maneuvers that the broom can do on its own, ranging from a dodge to a Wronski Feint.
Fortunately, in 2011, they had the good fortune to buy out Bluebottle, a small family broom company that produces brooms similar to Ellerby and Spudmore’s original focus, and have been able to keep their company afloat that way. Their other brooms are still known as quite odd and experimental, however, and are known for pushing the envelope in potentially unwise ways. Those of you paying attention last week will note that this same company is also hoping to develop a magical airplane of some sort. I suppose we’ll have to keep an eye on the horizon!
Nimbus Racing Broom Company
Originally started as a company whose sole purpose was to make the very best racing brooms when it was founded in 1967 by Devlin Whitehorn, it more than achieved its goal. In its first decade it dominated the market so thoroughly that contemporaries like Flyte and Barker or Cleansweep couldn’t touch its popularity. However, since the introduction of the Firebolt by Ellerby and Spudmore and the establishment of Thunderbolt Productions soon after (we’ll look at them shortly), they’ve largely shifted their business plan to wisely avoid the competition.
While Nimbus still does make new models of their racing broom -- the newest being the Nimbus 2003 -- they have also branched out to focus more on their family and corporate models, the Fambus and Bizbus, respectively. Bizbusses remain the household name in company brooms used by Ministry workers and school teachers alike. Similarly, the Fambus (or more accurately the Fambus X, as the current model is called) continues to enjoy popular family use since its introduction in 1993. Still, Whitehorn cites that he will eagerly return to full-on racing broom development as soon as the race between Firebolt and Thunderbolt dies down, and maintains that his Nimbus 2003 is a no-frills, highly-tuned machine for the expert flier who wants total control.
Our last company is a much smaller, focused one, whose main goal upon founding in 1994 was very blatantly to create a competitor for the Firebolt series. The owner, Talon Fowler, is regarded as willing to go to extremes to make this happen, spending large amounts of his personal fortune, uncaring of profitable business strategies. Rumors circulate that he and Randolph Spudmore, once childhood friends, recently had a falling out, but both businessmen have declined to comment multiple times.
Whatever the reason, Thunderbolt Products has produced no fewer than seven brooms in the 26 years since its birth, with the most recent being the Thunderbolt VII, which has finally started to gain some traction in the race against the Firebolt Supreme, though there are some concerns about its safety owing to Fowler’s extreme reputation as well as the broom’s strange behavior in the 2014 Quidditch World Cup. While Broom Regulatory Control immediately doubled investigations of Thunderbolt models, ultimately it was ruled that the misbehaving broom had been tampered with and was not representative of a flaw in the overall brooms produced. One thing can be said for sure though, it’s absolutely the fastest broom on the market, and is priced much more competitively than the Firebolt line.
And that’s it; that’s all we have for today! Feel free to linger around after class and look at the various models I have on display! Most of these are examples from Hogwarts’ own flying classes over the years, though some are pieces from my friends at Broom Regulatory Control. As long as the broom isn’t in a case, feel free to thoroughly inspect, prod, touch, or hold them! It may help you with one of your assignments this week, as you decide which of the newest broom models you’d get if you could. Until next week, students!