Why are these men sweeping the South Lawn? I have no idea. This photo was taken some time in the 1920s.
In the intriguing photograph from the 1920s, men are captured meticulously maintaining the South Lawn of the White House. They are not wielding the push brooms one might expect for such a task but are instead equipped with bull rakes. These traditional agricultural tools, characterized by their large, heavy heads with round wooden teeth, were typically used for gathering hay or crops like wheat after they had been scythed. The laborious technique shown in the image involves raking the cut grass into long rows, known as reaps, to be later collected with pitchforks and transported by mule-drawn wagons.
The use of bull rakes by the workers, despite the availability of motorized equipment, was a deliberate choice. In the era before air conditioning, it was essential to keep the White House windows open during sweltering Washington D.C. summers to allow for ventilation. To ensure that the President and White House staff were not disturbed by the clamor of engines, the groundskeepers resorted to these silent, manual tools. This practice reflects a time when even the most mundane activities within the White House grounds were carried out with the utmost consideration for the comfort and serenity of its illustrious occupants.