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Blacksmithing began with the Iron Age, when primitive man first began

making tools from iron. The Iron Age began when some primitive
person noticed that a certain type of rock yielded iron when heated by
the coals of a very hot campfire. In short, we can say that
blacksmithing, the art of crafting that crude metal into a useable
implement, has been around for a long, long time.
And for a long time after that, blacksmithing remained a crude art. It
took three thousand years for man to learn the science of metallurgy.
Long after man made the first simple tools--the first spear or arrow
tips--the craft would require hundreds more years before blacksmiths
understood the magnetic properties of iron. The first compass used a
forged iron needle that floated in a round vial. This was a great
discovery. By forging the needle as perfectly as he could, the
blacksmith aligned the molecules in the iron and that is why north is
north and south is south. From that point on, sailors could travel
without need of stars nor sun to plot their courses around the globe.
As to where and when blacksmithing evolved depended on fuel and
iron ore. Early on, man discovered that small meteorites contain iron.
Iron is also present in nodules of bog ore, small lumps of iron created
by bacterial life in swampy areas. Iron ore is also present in rock strata
that have a red color, and the deeper the red hue, the higher the iron
Charcoal was the primary fuel for an iron furnace. Beginning in the
18th century, ironworks began converting coal to coke. In addition to
charcoal and iron ore, a flux agent (limestone or dolomite) is also
needed to smelt iron ore.
It became a quest to find the rock strata that gave up its iron with the
least amount of work. Given the weight of the ore and the large
amounts of fuel needed to smelt the ore, the earliest ironworks were
located in areas where iron, flux, and fuel were ample and in proximity
to each other. The ironworks also had to be in an area where
transporting the finished iron ingots was practical. In early times, that
often meant being near a navigable waterway.
Early iron smelters called "bloomeries" were small furnaces built from
rocks that could withstand repeated heating. These furnaces looked
like beehives with a vent in the top and an entry portal on the side. To
create the high heat needed to smelt iron, smiths pumped air from a
bellows through the tuyere (nozzle). The furnace was filled with
charcoal and iron ore and the charcoal was then set afire. When the
temperature rises above 2,800 deg.F, the iron flows from the ore and
forms blooms.

Using large tongs, the blooms of iron were pulled from the oven and
placed on an anvil. A striker would then hammer the lumpy piece of
raw iron into a flat, rectangular bar. The bar would be folded over and
hammered again. This process would continue several more times until
most impurities had been driven from the ingot. The finished ingot,
bearing the layers of the folding process, was called "wrought iron".
Wrought Iron had a very low carbon content making it much weaker
than steel. But wrought iron was very malleable, a property that lends
itself to forging and forge welding. A forge weld is a homogenous weld
that aligns and bonds the molecules of the iron as if it were one piece;
hence, a seamless bond if done properly. The layers, or laminations, in
the wrought iron also gave it more strength than if it were only a single
layer. These qualities of wrought iron gave blacksmiths a perfect metal
for making gun barrels. A brief understanding of history should tell you
that blacksmiths have always been part of the "military-industrial
Cast Iron differs from wrought iron. Cast iron is iron that is heated to a
liquid state and then poured into a mold. The mold is lined with sand
and a small mix of clay to hold the sand in shape. A finished casting
has a rough surface because of the sand texture it was poured against.
Oftentimes, people mistake cast metal for forged metal but a quick
examination of the surface will differentiate the two. Many ornamental
iron fences, window and door grills, and other decorative ironwork
pieces are cast. Cast iron is poured at a foundry, not a blacksmith
shop. Cast iron cannot be heated and re-shaped, or (conventionally)
welded. Wrought iron can be reworked forever. Cast iron contains more
carbon than wrought iron. As it cools, the iron crystallizes and tends to
be brittle.
To fuel the smelter or the forge, wood is converted to charcoal, or coal
is converted to coke. Destructive distillation, the process name, means
burning the raw fuel with limited oxygen. The impurities are burned off
leaving nearly pure carbon which is what you know as charcoal or
coke. (The charcoal in your barbeque grill has been adulterated for
cooking purposes and will not fuel a forge.) To get the charcoal or coke
to burn even hotter, air is forced to the fire. In early times, this was
done with a bellows pumping air through a pipe into the hearth or
forge. The bellows was pumped either by hand or by a water wheel.
The result is a very hot, sustained fire.
Learning about charcoal makingg and learning about a forced-draft fire
made the iron age possible. This was the only way to generate enough
heat to smelt iron ore.

As coke-making evolved, man learned that the smoky by-products from

coal could be condensed and made into different chemical products.
Tar, a road building and roofing product, was made this way as were
the first chemical dyes. The first raincoat, called a MacIntosh for its
creator, was made in Scotland from canvas cloth covered with a coal
tar. Our modern chemical industry began with the coke-making process
and that was before oil was pumped from the earth.
At one time, charcoal plants also made chemicals but never to the
extent that coke plants did. However, methanol is still called "wood
alcohol" by many even though it has been a century or more since
methanol was made from wood in any quantity.
As this whole iron industry evolved over time, blacksmithing became
an umbrella for several specialties. The blacksmith who made suits of
armor was an Armorer. The blacksmith who made knives and swords
was a Bladesmith. The blacksmith who made locks was a Locksmith.
The blacksmith who made gun barrels and triggers was a Gunsmith.
The blacksmith who shod horses was a Farrier. Generally, the
blacksmith we remember was a man who possessed all of these skills.
Call him the "village smithy". The differentiation lies mainly in that his
shop was not geared for making one particular type of product.
In colonial America, the village blacksmith was called upon to do many
things. I have heard it said that some blacksmiths pulled teeth, no
doubt meaning that a village without a dentist had to rely on the one
man with a set of pliers! [See note 1 below.] Let's just leave it at this.
Making an axe or a knife or a fireplace crane or a set of door hinges or
a handful of nails was what the village smithy did. His shop was the
local hardware store. He could also repair a log chain or put rims on the
wagon wheels or fix the axe that got chipped when it hit a rock.
Whether the village needed swords or plowshares, the blacksmith
made them. For without the blacksmith, the village could not survive.
Leif Ericson, Christopher Columbus and all the other European
discoverers brought blacksmiths on their travels to the New World. Had
they not done so, the trip could have been one way and possibly ended
somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. From then on, every ounce of iron had
to be transported here until an iron industry could be developed. And
that took a century or so.
Over the centuries, blacksmiths experimented with iron and other
metals in their search for a more durable metal. The hardening and
tempering processes were invented. They also learned different ways
to modify the carbon content of the iron, thus allowing iron to be used

for even more purposes. A blacksmith needed so many different tools

with differing hardness that he was always tinkering with ways to
improve the properties of available iron. Punches needed to be hard
but not brittle. Knives needed to hold an edge but not be so hard that
it took a long time to sharpen them. A blacksmith had to have several
files in his tool chest. All of this led to the development of the tool
steels and alloyed metals that we have today.
By 1,500 BC, the European Hittites had conquered present-day Syria
and began smelting iron. They were the first known civilization to make
wrought iron. Centuries later, Damascus would lend its name to
pattern-welded iron. Damascus patterns are unlimited in their variety
and beauty. Pattern-welded iron/steel is very strong and durable, which
is why it is used in making swords and knives.
Blacksmithing in America prospered until the Industrial Age made small
enterprises all but obsolete. By the late 1800's, the railroads had linked
the country and hardware was manufactured at plants and sold in
hardware stores. Then came the automobile, and the last days of the
wagon makers ended by World War I. The Studebaker family,
blacksmiths first known for their Conestoga wagons, were able to make
the transition to the automobile. Even so, Emmert Studebaker never
lost his love of the forge and anvil. He was an accomplished blacksmith
and sponsored the Quad State Roundup at Tipp City, OH until his death
in the late 1990's.
The blacksmith survived but only as a specialty. A good example is the
Samuel Yellin Ironworks in Philadelphia. The Industrial Age created so
much wealth that the government started the Federal Reserve banking
system. Some of Yellin's early commissions were to make the iron grills
for the windows of the Federal Reserve banks. Other blacksmiths
prospered by making intricate ironwork (such as staircases) for the
mansions of the new millionaires in the 1920s. But most of the rest
were relegated to the maintenance departments in the plants that
replaced them.
The Great Depression and World War II all but ended the renaissance in
decorative ironwork. The blacksmith that Longfellow praised in his
poem became about as extinct as the chestnut tree he worked under.
Only in the last 40 years has blacksmithing made a comeback. The art
today is different, however. It exists at theme parks, restoration
villages, craft fairs and craft shops, and yes, in the mansions of new
millionaires. But today's blacksmith is more of an interpreter of the
past, an artist if you will, rather than the real item. Today's blacksmith
uses many of the same techniques and methods but the electric drill,
electric grinder, power hammer, ox-acetylene torch, and electric

blower for the forge greatly reduce the physical effort in modern
blacksmith shops.
Through associations such as ours, the art and the knowledge of
blacksmithing is being passed on. In large part, blacksmith associations
were started because people remembered a grandfather who had an
anvil at his farm and they wanted to learn more about the art. What
was a necessity to great-grandpa is really a leisure activity to most of
us today. The public has responded to this resurgence by buying the
wares of modern blacksmiths, but the trend has been towards artistic
work rather than common tools or goods. The new millionaires may
have their spiral staircases, but the average family is just as proud of
its garden gate, chandelier, wrought iron bed, or fireplace screen.
Another major reason for the resurgence in this art is Francis Whitaker.
He began his career at the Yellin Ironworks but left there to go into
business for himself. Despite the hard times of the 1930's, he managed
to prosper by securing commissions around the country. When he
considered retirement about 1970, he looked around and realized he
was "the last man standing." From that realization until his death in
1999, he toured the country promoting and teaching blacksmithing to
generations who knew little of the art.
I doubt that the blacksmith of olden times would ever guess that the
iron rod on my kitchen wall holds a roll of paper towels. In fact, he'd
probably have something derisive to say about paper towels since he'd
reuse every scrap of iron that he came across. But those are the ages,
his and ours. We do live in a different age and the blacksmith of old
doesn't figure into the equation anymore. After all, who buys a
magnetic compass needle when a GPS satellite can pinpoint one's
location at the touch of a button?
We do need to appreciate the man who really built our modern world,
the blacksmith. In peacetime and in wartime, the blacksmith was
called on to do many tasks. Ben Franklin, in his Poor Richard's
Almanac, wrote, "For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a
shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the rider was lost...". In
"The Village Blacksmith", Henry Wadsworth Longfellow praises the
blacksmith: " His brow is wet with honest sweat, He earns whate'er he
can, And looks the whole world in the face, For he owes not any man."
Such are the sentiments of an age gone by. For who in modern society
could qualify now for Longfellow's praise? I doubt we'll ever hear such
a romantic overture about lawyers, consultants, engineers, computer
programmers, civil servants, doctors, or for that matter, anyone else.

For a historical perspective of a blacksmith's work, be sure to read Part

2, Timelines
For a perspective of the development of technology, please read Part
3, Ages of Technology

[1] Tooth drawers: Before dentistry became a discipline in the latter

19th century, charlatans and mendicants pretended to be able to cure
dental problems. These people were often called "tooth drawers"
(tooth pullers) as were their smallish pliers made by a blacksmith. In
some lore, blacksmiths were said to be "dentists", but this attribution
has more to do with their making "tooth drawers" rather than actually
extracting teeth.
Part ii
Prior to October 12, 1492:
For whatever reasons, the civilizations in the New World lagged far
behind the rest of the globe when it came to metallurgy. It certainly
wasn't for lack of raw materials, however.
Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World with an array of tools,
wares, and weapons and he must have been surprised that the metal
technologies known for centuries to civilizations in Europe, Asia, and
Africa were largely non-existent here. With the exceptions of copper,
gold, and silver, the Americas had not developed much of a metals
Considering that the rest of the world had gone through the Bronze
and Iron Ages, the Europeans must have been surprised to find such a
primitive state of affairs.
Wherever a metals industry did exist in the hemisphere, there were
permanent cities with exquisite architecture. This was most notable
throughout Central America and in the Andes Mountains in South
America. But in what is now the United States, we don't see that kind
of development. The reason is simple. Where metallurgy existed, tools
were produced. With tools, man can make the land and its resources
conform to his wishes. Without tools, man conforms to the land. Tools,
engineering, and geometry went hand-in-hand because of metallurgy.
In 1492, North American Indians were still searching streambeds for
flint shards to sharpen into arrowheads. Although iron ore is plentiful

and well distributed in North America, there is no evidence of iron

Who were the first true blacksmiths in the Western Hemisphere?
Perhaps, the Norsemen. In 1001, Leif Ericsson built a settlement,
L'Anse aux Meadows, on Cape Bauld, Newfoundland and excavations
have uncovered an ironworks and forge.[1] The Norsemen found iron
nodules in the bogs and streambeds near their settlement. Though
primitive and small in scope, the Norse ironworks were most likely the
first in the New World.
There are two primary reasons for the European colonization of the
New World--precious metals and religious persecution. (Leif Ericsson's
crew may have found iron, but they were also searching for gold.) Not
long after Columbus' voyages, Martin Luther's objections to the Church
in Rome were being mass-printed on his fellow German's (Gutenberg)
printing press. And if you will recall the original purpose of Columbus'
mission, he was to pioneer a trade route to the spice-rich shores of
China and the Indies. By the 1530's, the Protestant Reformation was in
full swing and Magellan's ship had circumnavigated the globe. The
events of this brief period changed everything there is about the world
and its people and there has never been another era to compare with
It takes money to build navies, and when the Spanish found gold in
Mexico, the conquest of the New World was on. In the ensuing century,
the Spanish and Portuguese would claim and divide South and Central
America as well as most of the western part of our nation. It took the
Dutch, French, and English a while to catch up, but colonization of the
eastern coast and the Great Lakes basin followed by 1600. The Spanish
and Portuguese held true to the Church in Rome, but other Europeans
openly practiced religions that conflicted with the 'state-approved'
religion. These rifts began the European exodus to the New World.
Depending on where you look at the map, iron production developed at
different times. As soon as the colonists located an iron ore deposit,
they built a small iron smelter. Prior to this development, every piece
of metal had to be shipped to North America. Wherever iron ore was
found, a small industry began.[5] And with these small steps,
blacksmiths could start making tools, farm implements, muskets,
cooking utensils, knives, and nearly all of the necessities (even sewing
needles and fish hooks) that a sustainable pioneer village would need.
This is complicated time period to explain a blacksmith's work scope
because, without a well-developed iron industry, the blacksmith was

dependent on material shipped from Europe. Still, the blacksmith was

of critical importance and he would have been called on to repair
anything broken or worn in this time of shortages. For example, he
would repair a plow or an axe, two of the most important tools that a
settler owned. Horses are not native to the New World--they came here
on ships. Chances are that the horses that made it here did not get
shod because horseshoes were bulky and expensive to ship from
Europe. Without developed roads, there wasn't a great demand for
wagons--wagon parts, springs, and hardware were built by blacksmith
shops back then. So most colonists had ox carts or pony carts to haul
their meager possessions and crops. And keep in mind that, without an
iron industry, the blacksmith's tools and anvil also had to be imported.
With the sailing ships that existed then, a few anvils added up to a
considerably heavy cargo.
By 1700, some areas were prospering and had many of the amenities
that you would expect to find in any well-developed town or city. The
Boston area is such an example. Though if you left Boston for the
interior, you'd soon find yourself at the edge of western civilization. In
1700, the then-president of Harvard College was probably
commissioning a blacksmith to make door hinges and chandeliers for a
new academic building. Fifty miles away, however, another blacksmith
was scouring the land for enough iron to make a farmer's plow.
In parts of California and the west, we can still find the influence of the
Spanish blacksmith. He left his mark on the churches. (The Spanish
influence is also apparent in Florida.) As with the east, the church
building was one of the first and most important public building in any
settlement. The churches were adorned with architectural ironwork
whose quality and design amaze us even today.
An important date in this century is 1793--Eli Whitney received a
patent for the cotton gin machine. Whitney was somewhat of a genius
when it came to mass-producing identical metal parts. His true forte'
was in making triggers and hammers for muskets and rifles. Prior to
then, all rifles were individually crafted by a blacksmith. No two rifles
were identical.[2] Thus, the date of 1793 might well represent the
dawn of the age of the Industrial Revolution, an age where metal tools
and parts would be mass-produced. The reasons were economic. In the
case of cotton, it took about as much manual labor to separate the
cotton boll as it did to harvest the crop. The cotton gin, a relatively
simple machine, allowed one man to not only do the work of many at a
consistent production pace but also allowed for another important
industrial benefit--consistent quality control. This one machine greatly
reduced the cost of cotton which, in turn, made cotton fabric and

clothing more affordable. Cotton became an export product as a result.

More cotton was planted--more plows were forged--more wagons were
needed to haul the cotton to market--better roads had to be built--and
blacksmiths provided these tools. But mass-production techniques
being pioneered in the late 1700's would eventually replace much of
the blacksmith's work.
During this century, more horses meant more wagons which spurred
more roads which spurred more communities. Commerce picked up
significantly. Blacksmiths were critical to this development. Not only
did they shoe the horses and build the wagons but they also made
wagon wheel rims and made repairs. As commerce picked up and more
settlers arrived, there was an increasing demand for plows and, of
course, rifles. It has often been said that the long rifle secured
America's quest for freedom. Not only did it have superior range and
accuracy over any other weapon of its time but every colonist owned
one and knew how to use it. Thus, many blacksmiths became
The first Act passed by our Congress was a procedural one that allowed
it to conduct business. The second Act that it passed imposed a tariff
on rum imported from the Caribbean islands. Whiskey making was a
growth industry in America by the 1770's and the Congress felt that
our whiskey industry shouldn't be undercut by imported liquor. (This all
had to do with taxes on corn and whiskey, not drinking.) I point this out
only because whiskey was aged in oak barrels and a blacksmith made
the barrel hoops.
Most blacksmiths started work when they were young boys, maybe at
age 6 or 7. At the ae of 12 or 13, they would apprentice to a blacksmith
for a decade or more. And then they would set out to start their own
shop. America became a great opportunity for young blacksmiths. In
Europe and other parts of the world, there were few new or expanding
markets for blacksmiths. If a boy did apprentice to a master, he might
spend most of his life in that shop before he ever got the opportunity
to be a journeyman.
The 18th century created an unprecedented need for blacksmiths.
Sailing ships needed hundreds of metal parts, pulleys, cleats, brackets,
etc. as well as anchor chains. Blacksmiths made all of these parts.
Shipbuilders also needed hammers, chisels, saws, nails, and bolts and
blacksmiths made them. The Revolutionary War effort alone provided a
great demand for blacksmiths and gunsmiths. The loggers needed
saws and axes as well as chains and hooks. Homesteaders needed
hardware and house wares, most of which the blacksmith made. As the
country grew, jails were built and blacksmiths made the locks and

grilles and shackles. Unlike Europe where a city grew over time around
a Medieval castle, everything in America had to be built from scratch.
Many immigrant communities still wanted a part of their homeland,
however. After all, they traveled here with only the barest of goods.
Just as we pass down "the family silverware" from generation to
generation, the same custom held true then. However, immigrant
families left most of their heirlooms behind in the old country. This did
provide an opportunity for journeymen blacksmiths from Europe. A
blacksmith trained in, say, Cologne, Germany would seek out his
countrymen in the colonies and set up shop in their village or district.
He would prosper since he could replicate all of the old patterns that
his fellow immigrants knew so well. Though they couldn't bring their
wares on the boat, these immigrants were not denied their heritage.
A key date in this period is 1838. John Deere (yes, the green tractor
John Deere) invented a superior plow made from steel. His design
turned the soil better than existing plows. But what made this event
significant was the use of steel.
Deere's plows also had replaceable cutting edges and wear strips.
Unlike the hand-forged iron plow which was one piece and wore quickly
along its edges, this steel plow lasted longer and the wearing parts
could be cheaply replaced. By 1853, Deere & Co. was selling thousands
of new steel plows, a significant milestone of technological change-steel vs. iron and manufactured vs. hand-forged. The American steel
industry was underdeveloped in 1840 and produced a poor quality
product. Deere relied on imported steel from England to make his plow
In 1839, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the famous poem, "The
Village Blacksmith." We can assume, then, given the poem's success,
that the blacksmith was a revered craftsman. This period may have
been the zenith in American blacksmithing. Even today, our thoughts
about a blacksmith revolve around this poet's description. But this
poem was a fading dream. Even the chestnut tree that Longfellow
wrote of later died and the people of the town had a chair made from
the wood as a gift to the poet before his death in 1882.
During this era, steam power would change the nation.[3] The first
steamboats and packets vastly improved shipping, both on rivers and
on the sea. Steam power would begin to replace water power in grist
mills and textile plants. No longer would the miller rely on seasonal
rains to grind corn meal or flour. And of course, the steam-powered
locomotive changed transportation in ways never imagined. By 1860,

the South had its Merrimac and the North had its Monitor. And both had
railroad networks.
The blacksmith shop was starting to change as well. The bellows was
replaced with a rotary fan blower and the drill press became available
for small blacksmith shops. In larger shops and some of the fledgling
factories, one might find a steam-powered trip hammer.
Americans were also moving westward. Being west of the Alleghenies
in 1790 meant you were still on the frontier. But as John Deere
invented his plow in Illinois, that alone shows how quickly the
westward movement was taking place.
For a perspective of this period, consider Salem, WV. Originally settled
in 1792 by Seventh Day Baptist families who migrated south from
Rhode Island, Salem was itself an island in the wilderness. The first
buildings were a blockhouse and fort to protect the settlers from Indian
raids.[4] From that beginning, log houses were built and the settlers
developed farms. The town grew and it did prosper as a farming
community. Six decades after its founding, Salem would find itself not
on the frontier but in mid-America--a rail stop on the Baltimore & Ohio's
mainline. And on the town's 100th anniversary, Salem was home to
Salem College and sat surrounded by oil and gas wells.
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 in 2010)
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. 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
There was a golden age for blacksmiths who made architectural
ironwork during the early part of this period. But the Great Depression
(1930) would end this Renaissance. Still, many of America's mosttreasured iron works in iron were made during this time.
Farming with workhorses did not evaporate overnight. And even the US
Army maintained some horse cavalry and horse-drawn artillery units
into the 1930's. But by 1950, nearly all agricultural crops were tended
by machines and the Army was obviously mechanized. The farrier's
main work shifted from shoeing work horses to pleasure horses. While
many factories employed blacksmiths in their maintenance
departments in 1910, they were eventually phased out as their need
In summary, the art of blacksmithing almost became extinct during the
latter half of this period. People would remember their grandfather's
farm and the shed where his anvil was set up. But they had no idea of
what Grandpa did in his shop. Essentially, if a job absolutely had to be
done by hand, then a blacksmith would have work. And there were
some repairs and tools that called for the blacksmith's skills. But
modern logic dictated mass-production and replacement rather than
repair. It became cheaper to throw away a broken chain rather than
have a blacksmith make the repair links! And what about those
wrought-iron railings that homeowners bought in the '50's? They aren't
hand-forged by a blacksmith; they are cold-bent in presses and welded
together, and the finials are cast iron, made a hundred at a time.
Part 3

Ages of Technology
If you study the civilizations of history, you will read that a particular
society lived in one of three technological ages--the Stone Age, Bronze
Age, or Iron Age. And you will notice that certain dates are often
attached to the these ages. You may fall into the trap of believing that
all of the world's peoples threw down their stone tools in 6,500 BC and
ordered new, bronze tools. In truth, societies progressed at different
rates and throughout much of the last few millennia, the Stone Age,
Bronze Age, and Iron Age were all in place at the same time. This was
evident when European sailors landed in the Americas.
Even as astronauts blasted off for the first moon landing, some tribes
of rain forest Indians in the Amazon and elsewhere were still living as
people did in the Stone Age. They hunted and fished with sharpened
sticks, ground food roots to a pulp with a round rock, and, in some
locales, did not know how to build a fire with human-made tools or
Strange as this may seem that they did not know how to "make" fire,
one does have to ask the burning question: What need did they have
of fire? After all, the tropical rain forest is balmy the year round. And
fresh fruits and berries are always in season. Even if these tribes
wanted to cook a meal over a campfire, then they would have a hard
time finding enough dry wood to build the fire.
Without need of fire (primarily for warmth), these tribes were almost
guaranteed to live in the Stone Age. Why? Because it was the heat of a
campfire that led humans to discover that metals were contained in
rocks and that the intense heat of a fire could smelt the metal from the
ore rock.
If you were a Stone Age person, you would be acutely aware of your
surroundings. Living off the land, you would know every square inch of
the many square miles of your range. You would have discovered that
a tree limb with a knot made for a durable mallet. Of the rocks you saw
in the gravel bed of a stream, you would have quickly learned not to
step on a flint rock because of its sharp edges. You'd also see that
animal bones could be dried and splintered. With just these three
discoveries, you would be on your way to building a shelter, making
tools, and cutting and sewing animal hides for clothes or shoes.
Even though your life would be better than before you discovered how
to make tools, you would still want to make improvements to your
situation. One day, you would poke through the ashes of your campfire

and discover a shiny object, probably copper. Your instinct would be to

hammer it with a rock. The lump of copper would flatten with each
blow and then begin to polish. The shiny medallion would so inspire
your curiosity that you would gather more rocks and build more fires
and search the ashes for more shiny lumps of copper.
Thus, the Bronze Age begins.
At some point, probably after centuries of working copper into
implements and jewelry, people discovered the miracle of alloys. We
will never know if alloys came about by design or by accident. We do
know that mixing molten copper and molten tin produces bronze, a
remarkable alloy that even today has many uses in our industrialized
world. This discovery of making alloys in turn led to a belief in
alchemy--the notion that you could turn one metal into another. People
believed that a cheap, plentiful metal such as lead could be turned into
gold if only the right procedure was discovered. Imagine what those
people thought when they alloyed copper and lead and produced
brass. For a brief time, they probably thought they had made a bar of
Bronze Age technology remarkably changed the ways in which
societies lived. Precious metals, acting as a medium of exchange,
allowed for commerce between villages, between regions, and
between nations. No longer did traders have to barter one staple for
another. This new form of commerce created wealth. And where there
is wealth, there is art. As soon as a new metal or alloy was discovered,
it was incorporated into some form of art.
Bronze Age technology also brought forth advancements in
engineering & architectural science, as well as durable tools for
manufacturing and agriculture. In the Stone Age, a bridge was a tree
that happened to fall across a stream. Bronze tools allowed man to
build bridges, a skill that required measurement and mathematics.
Bronze tools also allowed man to build temples and other large
buildings, which led to the creation of mankind's first nation states and
empires. The Pyramids of Egypt, actually tombs for the Pharaohs filled
with gold treasures, highlight the Bronze in Egypt.
But the Bronze Age did have one shortcoming. Copper, tin, lead, gold,
and silver were never found in great quantities nor were they often
found in the same places. Bronze Age people were limited in their
technology to processing metals found in their native state or from
very rich ores. Unlike today, when a mining company can process one
ton of ore to retrieve one ounce of gold, Bronze Age people had to find
nuggets to process.

Iron came into use because the scarcity of copper, etc. pushed up the
prices of metals and alloys. It takes much more energy to melt iron
than it does copper. But as copper went up in price, iron smelting
became feasible. Iron is well-distributed throughout the world--a red
rock is an indication of iron. But the first iron source that people used
were meteorites that they found laying on the ground. Iron nodules are
also found in bogs and clay banks.
Copper melts at 1,981 degF. Iron melts at 2,802 degF. To achieve this
temperature, wood had to be converted to charcoal (nearly pure
carbon) and then burned with an air blast, which was supplied by a
bellows (a simple air pump.) While iron is harder and more durable
than the Bronze Age metals and alloys, it is not so simple as to say the
difference in Ages is the difference in the properties of the metals.
Making iron required a new way of thinking. Making iron was an
industrial process.
The first civilization credited with making 'wrought iron' from blooms is
the Hittite Empire which controlled present-day Syria and Iraq from
1700-1200 BC. While it took over 3,000 years from that first bloom of
smelted iron to the building of the first iron bridge at Ironbridge,
England, the thought process changed little. Iron making showed man
that he could make everything bigger, better, stronger, and faster. The
Industrial Revolution, the capstone of the Iron Age, could not have
happened without wrought iron and the blacksmith.
In today's world, the cruise ship is built from tens of thousands of tons
of steel. The jet airliner has nary and ounce of steel. Though dissimilar
in the metals that they are built from, they both represent the thinking
process of Iron Age technology.
Some futurists say that we have entered a new age of technology
based on computers. Call it the Silicon Age if you will. If that is true,
then our computer age began in 1801 when Joseph Jacquard invented
a loom that operated by punch cards. However basic, it was a
computer-controlled device. Whether we are starting this new age is
debatable. What is probably true is that it will not take 3,000 years to
develop the next age of technology.
In the 21st Century, man will develop a way to supply 90% of the
world's energy power from the sun and the cost will be minimal. And it
would not surprise me at all to see man-made rainstorms in the Sahara
Desert. But when this century ends--and I predict this with certainty-mankind will still not have found a cure for the common cold.

The Stone Age lives on!

Blacksmithing History 3
Stone Age tools made from rocks
Riveted panels in this bronze cauldron indicate advanced engineering
and design skills that developed in the Bronze Age
Spanning the Severn River in Shropshire, England--Ironbridge, built in
1779. It is made with cast iron segments, the largest of which weighs
over 5 tons.
Philadelphia blacksmiths guild, formed 2012