Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society
History Quarterly Digital Archives

Source: April 1980 Volume 18 Number 2, Pages 63–64

Blacksmithing and How it Helped Is Win the Revolutionary War

Steve Pearson

Page 63

Historians think that blacksmithing started about six thousand years ago in the Caucasus Mountains, in what is now the Soviet Union.

Until well into the nineteen hundreds, the community blacksmith shop was a familiar place. Early blacksmiths spent part of their time mining and smelting their own iron in their own forges.

The floor of a blacksmith shop was large, for it had to hold wagons, plows, horses and other material the blacksmith had to work on. The floor around the forge and anvil was usually packed dirt, or also wood covered by sheet iron so that pieces of hot iron would not set the floor afire.

Included in his shop were a workbench, a water tub, an anvil, a tool table, a forge and a coal bin. Blacksmiths also had racks to hold the horseshoes, iron and steel rods and sheets of iron and steel.

His tools included tongs of several sizes, sledges of different weights, a ball peen hammer, and hot and cold chisels. Flatters, fullers, sets and swages were used for flattening or forming special shapes on iron and steel.

One of the blacksmith's helpers was called a striker. Strikers were usually fourteen or fifteen year old boys who helped the blacksmith by hammering things when he needed an extra hand. Strikers would also assemble and arrange the tools for the blacksmith's next job. Blacksmiths sometimes had one or two boys to do chores, like pumping the bellows, turning the grindstone, sweeping up and running errands.

His sons or apprentices would learn the trade and started by shoeing horses. Then, when the boys became more skilled and experienced, they became blacksmiths and either inherited their father's shop or started one of their own.

Many blacksmith shops were located near inns, because people coming into town might have needed something repaired. The blacksmith could repair almost any thing made of metal. If a tinsmith, silversmith or gunsmith were not available, the blacksmith would do the job. Blacksmiths could repair kitchen utensils, tools, wagons, buggies, sleds, hardware; make and repair weapons; make ammunition; and shoe horses. Blacksmiths who shod horses were once called ferriers.

Page 64

When a blacksmith1s tools wore out he rarely threw them away. Due to the high cost of iron, he would re-use the metal to make or mend another item. His tools ranged from those he used frequently to ones he used for highly specialized jobs. If he had a job for which there was no tool, he simply designed one. Blacksmiths often preferred to make their own tools rather than purchasing them, because they wanted the tool to be just the right length and weight. Blacksmiths usually saved old wagon spokes for the tools they made.

When someone had a tool that broke or wore out, it would be taken to the blacksmith for repair. If he could not mend it, he would use whatever was left of the tool and make a copy of it.

The Continental Army depended on the blacksmith to keep their rifles, bayonets, swords and knives in good condition. Without the blacksmith, their supply lines would have broken down. Blacksmiths also made sure that the horses ridden by officers and used to pull wagons were well shod.

"The Village Blacksmith", a poem writtem by Henry Wadsworth Long-fellow, describes the blacksmith and his role in the community. The blacksmith was the backbone of society during peace time or war, and he played a crucial role during the Revolution.


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