Your local blacksmith: Not on Angie’s List

Robert Jacobs, Blacksmith, Ridgely, Maryland
Robert Jacobs, Blacksmith, Ridgely, Maryland.  In 2014, Age 13.

 

A survey of the Denton Journal 1870-1960 shows that blacksmithing peaked in Caroline County around 1895 then declined rapidly soon after.

This map shows the locations of blacksmith shops that were marked on county maps in 1875 and 1897.  Zoom the map to find the blacksmith nearest you 125 years ago.

Click here to see the original 1875 and 1897 maps.

It would be easy to attribute the decline of blacksmithing to the horseless carriage, which went into mass production around 1900.  But even after that, horses were still widely used for farming in this rural region.

Denton native George Schwartz described the wide variety of products and services that Denton blacksmiths provided to the community.   Not just harness and horseshoeing, but farm implements and household tools of all kinds.  So it seems likely that it was not just the automobile, but integrated manufacturing and rapid distribution by railroad of competing products that also led to the decline of blacksmithing in Caroline County.

blacksmith activity in DJ

After doing this simple research in the Denton Journal, I googled ‘blacksmith’ and got a surprise – a modern blacksmith just up the road.   (Not on Angie’s List.)

broken hammer forge

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* Here are details of my survey of blacksmithing activity in the Denton Journal.

The DJ has been publishing local news and advertising in Caroline County’s seat and largest town for 150 years.  I figured that occurrences of the word “blacksmith” in articles and ads would be a good marker for blacksmithing activity in the county over the years.

The DJ online search capability is available through the Caroline County Library.   It provides word counts for search results in any specific time period.  I searched for “blacksmith” in 5-year segments from 1870 to 1960.

I wanted to normalize the results to account for yearly fluctuations in the overall level of publishing over the study period.  And fluctuations in the amount of available data.  I guessed that for some periods, fewer editions could be accurately digitized due to poor print quality.

To normalize the results, I first did word counts in 5-year segments for the baseline-word “denton”.  I noted which period had the highest count and assigned a percentile to each of the other periods.  I then multiplied the word count for “blacksmith” in a given period by the percentile, so that it reflected changes in the frequency of the baseline-word for the same period.  I used “denton” as the baseline word, because more common English-syntax words are not indexed and searchable.

The survey results are here.

 

 

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