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Gallman Revisited: Blacksmithing and American Manufacturing, 1850-1870

Listed author(s):
  • Jeremy Atack
  • Robert A. Margo

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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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 23399.

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Date of creation: May 2017
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23399
Note: DAE
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  1. Atack, Jeremy, 1977. "Returns to scale in antebellum United States manufacturing," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 337-359, November.
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