History; 1860-1910


Appalachian Blacksmiths Association



16d cut nail, ca. 1900 -- 3 7/8" long


To understand this era, consider the lowly nail. In 1800, a blacksmith made nails, one at a time, at a rate of perhaps one per minute. Nails were expensive. Lumber, on the other hand, was becoming cheap. And as lumber got cheaper, people wanted to live in houses instead of log cabins. A way to make cheap nails had to be found and it was--the nail factory. "Cut" nails were turned out in all sizes from spikes to brads because the typical Victorian house and its trim needed about 400# of nails to hold it together. Nails were so scarce and expensive prior to 1800 that some states had previously enacted arson laws, not to criminalize arson per se, but to prevent people from burning down sheds, barns, and houses just to sift the nails from the ashes! Factories such as Wheeling's LaBelle Nail Co. (1852, and still operating) met the demand for nails. And they forever removed one of the blacksmith's product lines.

Horses, wagons, and horse-drawn implements would dominate the blacksmith's work through this period. Factories would begin producing many of the tools traditionally made in the village smithy. And steel, not iron became the metal of choice. But by 1910, Henry Ford had made a farm tractor that most farmers could afford. Along with his Model T automobile, Henry Ford would make the horse and wagon almost obsolete. And with this change, the blacksmith that Longfellow wrote of disappeared from the land.

In a typical American town in 1900, one would expect to find livery stables, feed stores, wagon shops, blacksmith shops, horse corrals, horse traders, and horse trainers in about the same ratio that we now find auto dealers, repair shops, parts stores, driving instructors, and fueling stations. This shows how much the blacksmith was a part of the local economy. The change was quick and significant. 


Introduced in the 1890's, it would not take long for America to begin its love affair with the automobile.  The technology of the cotton gin came of age in the automobile assembly plant.

More than anything else, motorized vehicles and farm equipment doomed the trade of blacksmith.



Education  |  Pre 1492  |  1492-1700  |  1700-1800  |  1800-1860  |  1860-1910  |  1910-1970  |  1970- 

David G. Allen for the Appalachian Blacksmiths Association 2008


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