NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Gallman Revisited: Blacksmithing and American Manufacturing, 1850-1870

Jeremy Atack, Robert A. Margo

NBER Working Paper No. 23399
Issued in May 2017
NBER Program(s):   DAE

In nineteenth century America, blacksmiths were a fixture in every village, town and city, producing a diverse range of products from axes to wheels and services from repairs to horse-shoeing. In constructing his historical GNP accounts Robert Gallman opted to exclude these “jacks-of-all-trades” from the manufacturing sector, classifying them instead as part of the service sector. However, using establishment-level data for blacksmiths from the federal censuses of manufactures for 1850, 1860 and 1870, we re-examine that choice and show that blacksmiths were an important, if declining, source of manufactured goods. Moreover, as quintessential artisan shops, a close analysis of their structure and operation helps resolve several key puzzles regarding industrialization in the nineteenth century. As “jacks-of-all-trades,” they were generally masters of none (except for their service activities). Moreover, the historical record reveals that several of those who managed to achieve mastery moved on to become specialized manufacturers of that specific product. Such specialized producers had higher productivity levels than those calling themselves blacksmiths producing the same goods, explaining changes in industry mix and the decline of the blacksmith in manufacturing.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23399

 
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