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Todtnau’s 250-Year Black Forest Legacy

In the Black Forest of Germany 250 years ago, Todtnau was the cradle of brushes and brooms, which were made with beech wood and pig bristles. Brushes were already known in antiquity as findings in Egypt and Greece proved that brushes were used for cleaning, clothes and hair care. North of the Alps, discoveries from Roman military camps also show that brushes were used to care for soldiers and horses. Already around the year 1400 brush making was known to exist in Germany in Nuremberg.

Historical tufting machine from 1910 with Friedrich Busse

How did this industry come to the deep Black Forest and Todtnau? In the second half of the 18th century, Josef Thoma in Todtnau ran a grain mill that worked with water power. While the carrying, emptying and filling of the sacks was handled by the stronger sons, the smallest of the boys, Leodegar, was responsible for the cleanliness of the mill, the clothes and the shoes. He found this activity particularly difficult, since there were no brushes or brooms. He pondered the concept of making an appropriate tool that could ease his work. Finally, he came up with the idea to use the bristles of the pigs. But somehow these had to be held together to be effective. To solve that issue, he sawed a piece of wood into an oblong shape, drilled holes in it and filled them with bundles of bristles, which he attached with wooden wedges. This represented the first Todtnauer brush in 1770.

However, with the known pre-history from Egypt and Greece, Leodegar Thoma would not be viewed as the inventor of the brush. However, in the course of manufacturing process, material procurement and sales, he implemented the division of labor in this industry and was thus superior to other imitators.

From the earliest beginnings, a trade and prosperous industry developed that still competes with its products on the world market after 250 years. The inauguration of a brush museum in Todtnau, in the year of Interbrush 2020, is to be acknowledged at the beginning of the event. For several years, a dedicated team of the Kulturhaus Todtnau has been working hard to professionally set up the brush museum with historic machines constructed and built in Todtnau.

Text and photo provided by Kulturhaus Todtnau.

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