031. Blacksmith Shop

In 1833, George Martin’s father sent a letter to his family back in Scotland, saying, “No person need come here if they cannot work—or bring work people with them…. Paid a Smith two dollars for putting four shoes on a horse…. Immigrants from east and Europe could find work if they knew how to smith.” Often referred to as the “father of craftsmen,” a blacksmith was the jack of all trades, with the knowledge to forge metal to make hardware we take for granted today, like a key or a latch. It was in shops like this one where the blacksmith and farmer invented tools to speed up production and free up labor. It’s no coincidence that early steel plows, like those made at the Naperville Plow Works, were often the inventions of smiths. John Deere was himself a smith from western Illinois. By the end of the nineteenth century, industry had advanced to the point that tools were being manufactured in factories and sold in “hardware” stores. But this development did not spell defeat for blacksmiths. Resourceful as ever, smiths became even more specialized, making mechanical repairs and continuing to shoe horses.