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I'm looking for a book or articles about historical blacksmithing in the U.S. circa 1900-1920. Specifically, how blacksmithing was changing with the onset of other industrial processes. I'd be particularly interested in what happens to general smithies in small and medium-sized towns during the period, but even an overview would be helpful. I'm not afraid of challenging textbooks and academic papers.

Come on, ThomasPowers. I bet you can think of something.

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Have you looked at the Sears Roebuck Catalogs and gotten an idea of what could be ordered rather than made locally? (I have reprints of the 1897, 1905 and 1908 catalogs for instance.)

Also you may want to find the old trade journals and follow them over the time; the letters written in about specific issues might be a help. ("Practical Blacksmithing" is a collection of articles from "The Blacksmth and Wheelwright" and published in 1889, 1890 and 1891. Such a journal would be a primary source vs secondary or tertiary ones.   You could also track census data   and business listings.

Hand Forging and Wrought-Iron Ornamental Work by Thomas Googerty published in 1911 shows how the "craft" aspect was being  developed during the Arts & Crafts Movement.

Check if there are any Army or Navy sources for forging during that period.

In general the general "village" smith expanded into welding and car repair and did a lot more repair of manufactured goods than creating stuff from the start.  I once attended an auction from a Car Repair business that had been in the same location since 1918 and yup they had a complete forge set up buried under the "new stuff".  I got the 6" vise...  (Also there were some lovely 1900's power tools for woodworking as car bodies were wood way back when...)

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You've probably already found this source, but Google Books has free ebooks for The American Blacksmith from 1901 through 1921.

Al (Steamboat)

 

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11 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

In general the general "village" smith expanded into welding and car repair

From the novel The Nine Tailors (1934) by Dorothy Sayers: "Even if we could get the car out to-night, I'm afraid the axle may be bent, and that means a blacksmith's job."

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Did you hear a ringing in your ears after reading that story?

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Excellent. Thanks, TP, Al, and JHCC.

Here's the dealio---I have a character (yeah, okay, I write books, don't make fun of me) who is a blacksmith during the later end of the time period. As part of the narrative arc, I'd like to convey what his day-to-day job is. Characters often live and breathe in the gap between getting it right and getting it wrong.

This character is one of a cast of thousands and I want to explore the hands-on aspect of the actual work across a variety of jobs, trades, and crafts for pretty much all of them. This is a multi-year, multi-volume project with fiction and nonfiction sides that only an insane person would attempt, but I've always thought sanity was overrated. Seriously, this is a crazy effort but we all have our obsessions and I won't make fun of yours if you don't make fun of mine. Scratch that---I will totally make fun of you. Like, totally.

Anyhow, I really appreciate the help. Now I need to go outside and make some hooks for holding material. Imagine that---I can actually make the hooks I need because I can blacksmith. That is awesome.

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3 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

Did you hear a ringing in your ears after reading that story?

No, after a misspent youth with insufficient hearing protection.

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LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION, a smith in rural town in the Arkansas hills probably had quite a different job list than one in Columbus Ohio.

You may want to see if any historical societies have the "day books" where a smith would record all the jobs he did and what was charged/paid.  I've seen excerpts of earlier ones.

One major aspect was the decrease in people and the increase in powered tools in the shop; at first powered by other than electricity.  So losing a worker to the Spanish American War might have pushed toward getting a powerhammer. Also a smith might be a general smith but do small production runs for other businesses.  The rise in acetylene generators using carbide could be interesting---especially with their tendency to blow up...but they allowed acetylene lights as well as welding gas. (My mother was born in the 1930's on a farm and grew up with kerosene lamps for light as rural electrification didn't hit their area till much later.  Meanwhile cities had first gas lights and then electric lights though 1900 would be gas most places.)

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I'll have to ponder on the location part as this character moves around quite a bit.

I'm fairly familiar with the change from man power to steam power to electricity, esp. out here, and have a collection of articles about on-the-job accidents that are pretty gruesome many of which involved new power sources that someone didn't quite understand.

I'll look up some more about acetylene. That's interesting and would apply to lots of industries.

I'm pretty focused on 1910-1917---I just asked about a wider swath of time because this character isn't just starting out, so I need to ground him in smithing knowledge. I just downloaded a load of AMERICAN BLACKSMITH volumes for a bit of help.

And I'm starting to love the Sears catalog idea. A lot. Maybe too much.

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5 hours ago, Ohio said:

Scratch that---I will totally make fun of you. Like, totally.

Ah hah, an author of hysterical fiction. I write sci fi myself, perhaps we should check each other's galleys. 

Hmmmmm. Might consider writing shorts about different smiths. Different locations, situations, skill levels, dramatic life happenings on them, etc.

About a year ago I started a RPG about blacksmiths shipwrecked on an Alaskan island but it didn't survive the 4th. of July weekend. I just never kicked it back off again and the players were probably waiting on me till they lost interest. My bad, it's a TBI thing, I forget things sometimes while I'm doing them. A few decades ago I used to run sci fi scenarios by my usual D&D buddies. It made a good tool for developing characters and dialogue, I suck at dialogue . . . I was going to list my worst fault but it's just the thing that bugs me most from a list too long to go into. 

However (just so that side track isn't completely off topic) I discovered writing scenarios really helped writing longer stories.

Frosty The Lucky.

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I write pretentious literary fiction, Frost. And no galleys, not on this project.

Mostly I was looking for research material that will help me with existing characters. I've had four books published, three novels and a textbook on filmmaking, and I'm pretty comfortable with more challenging narrative forms, which this project has. Think something like Rashomon but then take the characters back 6 years to understand the choices they made to get to this one specific place and time, and then get all William Faulkner on it. Toldya, pretentious literary fiction.

I got xxxxxxxxxxx references from folks here and have already started reading selections. And TP suckered me into the Sears catalog, so I just paged through two of them on archive.org---dang it, I had stuff to do today---and now my eyes hurt from the teeny tiny type. Can you imagine typesetting all that? Yowza.

Is this referring about a load of Manure ? use a different phrase next time

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Look up a blacksmithing group in your area and attend some of the meetings. You will learn more in just a few hours than you can ever imagine. This will let you apply first hand knowledge to your work. I will caution you that exposure to blacksmithing is addictive, even a single exposure in some cases. (grin)

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9 hours ago, Ohio said:

Imagine that---I can actually make the hooks I need because I can blacksmith. That is awesome.

I feel the same way! Blacksmithing has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me.

 

Sorry, I'm of no help with your book:D

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Just remember most modern smiths have only a romanticized view of smithing in earlier times based on Hollywood and fantasy novels...

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True that +10.

Actual experience is of interest to me often there's a backstory that can be really revealing. For example, I'd like to know what people got paid for certain kinds of work, how many hours, how'd they rip off or get ripped off, what was the price of bread and shoes, stuff like that. I was just reading an article by someone advocating going to a piecework rather than hourly wage system for blacksmiths in industrial shops (I can make a pretty good guess why he's advocating that position, but anyhoo...). I don't repro that article in fiction, but it can be part of a character's world view, or to help show how a character believes one thing and says another because his job depends on it, which puts him in conflict and conflict is interesting---stuff like that. It allows nuance grounded in real experience. That soft-focus B.S. doesn't interest me much.

I have other characters working at other jobs and some of them are just excruciatingly dangerous while being dull. Most jobs are dull and most jobs are filled with drudgery. I don't run away from the drudgery in my writing. In real life, I run away from drudgery like I'm on fire, which, at the forge, has happened only once. It wasn't a very big fire, so it hardly counts.

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Gil Fahrenwald used to publish calendars with late 19th century blacksmith shop photographs; you can tell a lot about what a smith does from such photos---including the number of people working in a shop! (how they were dressed, type of work,  how the shop was set up, work groupings, etc) 

Now for a deep dive you could try to find some blacksmithing accounts from the WPA Writer's Project that collected oral histories during the Depression.  I've read a number of the ones from my area in New Mexico that dated from your period of interest; but was not hunting for smithing ones, just the settling and life in those times of my area.

I'm sure you have already consulted the Foxfire books, esp Vol 5: Ironmaking, Blacksmithing, Flintlock Rifles....just remember that these come from an area that was considered "Backwards" and so were much more old fashioned than the general life in cities.

Do you have a state historical society that may have archived stuff from that time period and may even be able to help you find what you need?

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I have credentials at NARA, work with archivists at LOC, have done research at state archives, have contacts within specialty and local history groups here and around the country. I've also handled digitization projects of oral histories, print, and photographic holdings for various archives and libraries in this area, so I have a pretty good grip on what sources are available and I've been through most of them. I also have a neighbor who started blacksmithing with his stepfather when he was seven or eight who keeps giving me blacksmithing equipment (I still need to go get the swage block he gave me) whose been generous with his knowledge.

Thanks again everyone for the book recommendations.

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So not so much a need for suggestions on sources of sources but perhaps differing ways of looking at them.

Note that the previous Sears & Roebuck catalogs were commonly posted in rural outhouses for use as reading material, wiping material and certain sections for research by adolescent males.

As I recall Samuel Yellin was just getting started around the time of your interest and so grew an "industrial scale of ornamental smithing"

Also it was quite common for workers in the cities to take night classes in their field to advance themselves.

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On 10/18/2018 at 4:01 PM, Ohio said:

I write pretentious literary fiction, Frost. And no galleys, not on this project.

And I make presumptuous statements. I write generally unpublishable . . . stuff. That they'd arise to Galley status is to presume a lot.

Frosty The Lucky.

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What no "And if you don't row faster I will read Chapter 2 of Frosty's latest work to you!...Bwahahahahahahahaha"

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3 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

What no "And if you don't row faster I will read Chapter 2 of Frosty's latest work to you!...Bwahahahahahahahaha"

Shall I send you something? If she doesn't row fast enough read it to her a second time no need for a second chapter.

Frosty The Lucky.

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No water out here for a Galley and even if so I could only wish that "She" would be in the galley of the galley!

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