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