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Blacksmithing was one of the most important trades you could learn in the 19th century. Many living history museums include a blacksmith’s shop among their exhibits.
Since the first European settlers landed in Roanoke, Virginia in 1607, the blacksmith has been an essential part of life in every American town. He would make everything out of iron that a household, farm or business needed, including horseshoes, pots, skillets, tools, and weapons.
It might be surprising to learn that making nails and fasteners of every size and type was a major part of the blacksmith’s work. These small but necessary pieces were so valuable, abandoned buildings were often burned to the ground, just to salvage the nails.
African American Opportunities
In the South, large plantations were often isolated and had to be self-sufficient when it came time to re-shoe a horse or repair agricultural equipment.
A few slaves were given a rare opportunity to learn an important skill. After the Civil War, African Americans migrating north found work in many communities as a blacksmith.
The design of the bellows is ancient and quite ingenious. It consists of a lower and upper chamber, connected by a one-way valve. A few vigorous strokes of the operating pole forces air from the lower chamber into the upper chamber, which is connected to the firebox through a tube.
Because the opening of the tube is smaller than the tube itself, the air passes slowly into the firebox, providing a steady stream of oxygen to fuel the fire. A blacksmith could work for a considerable amount of time before he needed to pump the bellows again.
You can view a blacksmith’s shop at the following museums:
The Farmers’ Museum
Galena History Museum
Genesee Country Village & Museum
Rockdale Historical Society
Old Sturbridge Village
Corning Painted Post Historical Society
The Fort at No. 4
Upper Canada Village
This is the Place Heritage Park
Salt Lake City, UT
McKinley Presidential Library & Museum
Street of Shops (Static Display)
(An amusement park/period recreation village)
North Pole, NY
If you have visited other museums that have a blacksmith's shop, post about it in the Museums Forum!
Content copyright © 2014 by Kim Kenney. All rights reserved.
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