Gallman Revisited: Blacksmithing and American Manufacturing, 1850-1870
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.
Jeremy Atack is Emeritus Professor of Economics, Vanderbilt University, and Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research. Robert A. Margo is Professor of Economics, Boston University, and Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research. We are grateful to Stanley Engerman, Thomas Weiss, and seminar participants at Boston University, Carnegie-Mellon, and Yale University for helpful comments. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Jeremy Atack & Robert A. Margo, 2019. "Gallman revisited: blacksmithing and American manufacturing, 1850–1870," Cliometrica, vol 13(1), pages 1-23. citation courtesy of