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Gallman revisited: blacksmithing and American manufacturing, 1850–1870

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  • Jeremy Atack

    (Vanderbilt University)

  • Robert A. Margo

    () (Boston University)

Abstract

Abstract 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, 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeremy Atack & Robert A. Margo, 2019. "Gallman revisited: blacksmithing and American manufacturing, 1850–1870," Cliometrica, Springer;Cliometric Society (Association Francaise de Cliométrie), vol. 13(1), pages 1-23, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:cliomt:v:13:y:2019:i:1:d:10.1007_s11698-017-0165-x
    DOI: 10.1007/s11698-017-0165-x
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Hilt, Eric & O'Banion, Katharine, 2009. "The Limited Partnership in New York, 1822–1858: Partnerships Without Kinship," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(03), pages 615-645, September.
    2. Stanley E. Howard, 1934. "The Limited Partnership in New Jersey," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 7, pages 296-296.
    3. Weiss, Thomas, 1967. "The Service Sector in the United States, 1839 to 1899," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 27(04), pages 625-628, December.
    4. Atack, Jeremy, 1977. "Returns to scale in antebellum United States manufacturing," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 337-359, November.
    5. Sokoloff, Kenneth L., 1984. "Was the transition from the artisanal shop to the nonmechanized factory associated with gains in efficiency?: Evidence from the U.S. Manufacturing censuses of 1820 and 1850," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 21(4), pages 351-382, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Carlo Ciccarelli & Matteo Gomellini & Paolo Sestito, 2019. "Demography and Productivity in the Italian Manufacturing Industry: Yesterday and Today," CEIS Research Paper 457, Tor Vergata University, CEIS, revised 16 May 2019.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Blacksmith; Industrialization; Economies of scale; Specialization; Labor productivity; Gallman;

    JEL classification:

    • N61 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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