The Blacksmith Shop
By David L. Bristow, Editor
The blacksmith shop was always one of the first businesses established in any frontier community. It was hard to imagine a world without the clang of a hammer on an anvil. Blacksmithing is an ancient trade, dating back millennia to the time when bronze tools began to replace stone. Before the Industrial Revolution, every iron tool was custom-forged by a blacksmith. Such tools were expensive. You didn’t replace one if you could help it. You had it repaired.
The heart of the blacksmith shop was the forge, where the metal was heated so it could be more easily worked. A forge had a bellows to make the fire hotter and regulate the heat. Near the forge stood an anvil of hardened steel. Here the blacksmith shaped metal with a hammer and other tools. Curved objects were shaped around the anvil’s horn. The anvil’s “pritchel hole” was used when the blacksmith punched holes in a piece of metal. Special tools for cutting and shaping metal were attached to the anvil’s square “hardy hole.”
Mass-produced metal items eventually reduced demand for a blacksmith’s custom-made products, but many shops adapted to changing technology. As farming became mechanized, and as newfangled automobiles required frequent repairs, some blacksmith shops evolved into mechanical shops. Others specialized as farriers—shoeing horses and mules—a trade that continues to this day.
Top photo: Photo by John Nelson, Ericson, NE, circa 1910. Jensen is probably the man standing in the doorway wearing a dirty leather apron and holding a hammer and punch. History Nebraska RG3906-10-35
Charlie Graves, Charles Beecher, Henry Beecher, and an unidentified man in front of the Beecher Wagonmaking and Blacksmith Shop, Fairmont, Nebraska, 1884. History Nebraska RG3360-2-7
Written on the back of this photo: "Photo from C.A. Duffield" and "Mr. C. W. Watson, Mr. O.S. Watson. In directory, 1890-91." History Nebraska RG3906-10-35
Polk County, Nebraska, circa 1910. History Nebraska RG2407-02-12
The Leuck & McManigal Blacksmith Shop in PIlger, Nebraska, looks more like a mechanical shop in this undated photo. History Nebraska RG2587-1-11
A blacksmith shop at 21st and L streets in Lincoln, 1941. In addition to the traditional forge and anvil this shop has a gas welding outfit. History Nebraska RG6097-20-954
Blacksmith shop at Fort Robinson State Historical Park, 2013. Supplies and equipment were left in place when the army abandoned the fort in 1948. History Nebraska: author photo.
Barrels of mule shoes in the Fort Robinson blacksmith shop, 2013. As the army's remount depot, Fort Robinson always kept plenty of shoes on hand. History Nebraska: author photo.
“Blacksmithing,” Kansapedia, Kansas Historical Society, 1993, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/blacksmithing/17872