, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 1–23 | Cite as

Gallman revisited: blacksmithing and American manufacturing, 1850–1870

  • Jeremy Atack
  • Robert A. MargoEmail author
Original Paper


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.


Blacksmith Industrialization Economies of scale Specialization Labor productivity Gallman 

JEL Classification




We are grateful to Stanley Engerman; Thomas Weiss; seminar participants at Boston University, Carnegie-Mellon, NBER, and Yale University; and two referees for helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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