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I. The Beginning of Tools 

OF all things made by man, tools are by far the oldest, older 
indeed than any other fact we yet have learned of ancient 
man himself. Tools were used before food was cooked by fire, 
before the crudest pottery was made, before caves, or trees, 
or tents of hide, or huts of earth served man for shelter from 
the rain and wind. Tools have been found in gravel banks, in 
beds of streams or buried under the earth; tools that we know 
were made nearly a million years ago. Yet of the life of man as 
a being who walks erect, who thinks, who works and has some 
kind of organized life, all that we know is covered by a scant 
fifty thousand years. 

The most ancient tools were not even made, they were found; 
smooth, flat, water- worn pebbles that fit the hand, bits of shell, 
or splinters of flint whose jagged edges served as blades to 
scrape the flesh from hide and bone. But even before this, there 
must have been a time when there were no tools at all, not a 
fishhook, knife blade, spearhead or axe. What was the world 
like without tools? We do not know how it was in the begin- 
ning for we have not yet been able to clear away the mists of a 
million years. Yet only two hundred years ago a toolless people 
still lived upon the earth, the Tasmanians. They knew neither 
fire nor any kind of shelter. They squatted on their heels by 
night and their only food was shellfish, or small animals eaten 

Diodorus of Sicily, who lived two thousand years ago, tells 
of a people of his own time who existed in a toolless world. 
He calls them "the fisheaters" and says that their country lay 
along one of the coasts of Arabia. They had no homes, nor 
even any families; all slept on the ground, herded together like 
animals. Their food was fish, and these they caught by building 
low stone walls along the shore, at such places where the sea 
ran into narrow bays. When the tide came in it would flow over 



these low walls carrying with it many kinds of fish. But as the 
tide began to ebb, seeping back through the crevices among 
the stones, it left the larger fish stranded on the sand. The fish- 
eaters then would laugh and shout, darting here and there 
catching the fish with their bare hands. They split them open, 
removing the bones which they threw aside on a pile. Then 
they mixed the meat with buckthorn, to flavour it, and made 


fish-cakes on which they gorged themselves for four days at 
a time, stopping only to sleep before beginning the feast 
again. In all that time they had no water there was none 
there to drink. At last, driven by thirst, they would climb 
into the neighbouring mountains, where there were fresh- 
water springs. From these they would drink until, swollen with 
food and water, they would fall into a stupor from which they 
would wake only to start the same round of life again. 
But if the tide held high, or the wind made the sea too rough 


for the fish to come near the shore, these folk would first take 
the fishbones from the piles where they had heaped them and 


suck what meat and juices might remain. These gone, they 
would live on the large mussels they found in the sand. But 
should the wind hold and the mussels give out, they starved. 



Not many people, even in the time of Diodorus, lived as these 
fisheaters did, but some hundreds of thousands of years earlier 
it was the common way of life for a great many of our ancestors 
who lived in a world without tools. 

But not all the toolless people, even in ancient times, lived 
along the seashore. Some ate seeds, or fruits, even insects and 
the green shoots of trees, but most of them were hunters who 


lived on the flesh of animals. And it is probably these hunting 
folk who first made tools, for the fishhook and the harpoon 
do not seem to have come into the world so early as the axe 
and spear. 

The most ancient hunters caught their animals barehanded, 
as they slept you may imagine what skill, courage and patience 
that took. Later they learned to throw stones. That needed but 
little intelligence, for even an ape will throw stones, but it led 
to things that were intelligent the invention of the spear and, 
eventually, of the bow and arrow. 


We do not know which was the first tool invented it may 
have been the spear point, which would serve both as a 
throwing weapon and a flesh knife. It may have been the axe- 
head which could be used as a scraper for hides, a cutting tool 
for wood and a very dangerous and accurate weapon when 
thrown. Whatever it was, once the idea of using tools got 
started, it spread throughout the whole of the ancient world. 

It is amazing how much early mankind seems to have moved 
about, not only on land but on sea as well. Far up in Stone Age 
France we find shells that 
could only have come from 
India, and the taro plant 
was taken from the South 
Sea Islands to Africa in the 
days of stone tools. 

The first tools were 
usually made of flint, 
although some were made 
of chert and a few of black 
natural glass. In time there 
grew up regular factories 
for making tools where flint 
or chert was plentiful. The 
skill of these early tool- 
makers was extraordinary. They made axes and saws, drill 
points and spearheads that are things of wonder in their 
beauty and workmanship to us to-day. 

When we think of these ancient people, we picture them as 
having flat heads, heavy jaws, a slouching walk, hairy bodies 
with long arms and clawlike hands. And that is how they 
probably were. Yet those powerful hands were wonderfully 
skilled, as you will find if you try to split off tiny flakes from 
a piece of flint as they did. That little brain and great body had 
the patience to bore a hole through the hardest kind of stone 
with nothing but a reed or a sharpened stick, twirled between 
the palms, for a drill. Nor were they content with only simple 



tools. Besides the axe, the adze and the spear, they invented 
fishhooks and the harpoon and a number of types of drill, one 
of which, the pump drill, we still use to-day. Their throwing 
machine, the bow and arrow, was not improved upon, in 
principle, until the invention of gunpowder about five hundred 
years ago. So skilful were some of these early craftsmen that 
no better needles than theirs, of polished bone, were to be 
made until as late as the time of Columbus. 


vc you here the history of these early stone tools 
1 : l.ecp us too long from the history of metal tools, 
t -* .1 _, j wish to follow their invention, change and improve- 
ment down through the ages, you will find it told in The 
Carpenter's Tool Chest. 

The life of the early hunter was probably a good deal better 
than that of the fisheater, but it still was no easy life to live. 
Before he invented the bow and arrow he had only the axe, the 
spear, the knife and possibly the boomerang and sling. Yet, 
with no better arms than these, the hunting folk killed the 
sabre-toothed tiger, probably more fierce than any animal we 
now know. The invention of the bow and arrow made a 
tremendous difference, but even with this, life must have been 
bitterly hard. The hunter must ever keep close to moving 
animal herds, for if the hunt failed he faced starvation. 

After the hunter came the shepherd, when man had learned 


to tame the cow, the horse, the sheep, the goat, the camel and 
the ass. Now, instead of hunting his food, he followed his flocks 


and herds from pasture land to pasture land, living on the 
flesh and milk, butter and cheese which the beasts made 
possible. It sounds like an easy Ufe and a pleasant one under 


the sun and the stars, with plenty to eat and little work to do. 
Poets have always sung the golden age of the shepherd's life. 
But I doubt if it was really so. 



* a description of shepherd life that has come down to 
Roman times. This tribe, so goes the ancient record, 
c of a sort, spears and round leather shields, bows and 


arrows, throwing rocks and knob-headed clubs. They followed 
their flocks from place to place, for ever seeking water and 
grass. Drought was always a danger, and wild animals raided 


their beasts by night. Tribe fought with tribe for possession 
of the pasture lands. They were always on the march. You must 
keep your place with the moving flocks, for if you fall out 
along the way, no one will wait for you. There was no 
place in this world for the old, or the sick, or the lame. "Such 
people," the ancient writer says, "were given the chance to 
hang themselves by tying the tail of an ox around their necks," 


and, he goes on, "should they fail to do this, anyone in the 
tribe has the authority to do it for them." 

It was only when man came to settle down to the farmer's 
life, to grow his food instead of seeking it, that the fear of 
hunger was no longer so ever-present and terrible. For now he 
eould store up his grain against his time of need, and while 
crops might fail, as no doubt they did, he now had, for the 
first time, a little breathing spell in which to look at the world 
about him and plan a better kind of life. 

Weaving and spinning, pottery and basketwork had come. 



Houses were built of sun-dried brick, or of withes woven 
together and plastered over with clay. A family could now live 
in some security. There was a place in this new world for the 
old, the sick and the lame. It was the beginning of life as we 
know it, and it was in this farmer's world that the use of metals 

If you will think of all the time that has passed, from the 
beginning of tools down to now, as being but a day and a night 

of twenty-four hours then 
twenty - three hours and 
forty-eight minutes of that 
time would have been taken 
up with the world of the 
fisheater, the hunter, the 
shepherd and the first 
farmer only twelve minutes 
of it would stand for 
the time that has passed 
since the coming of metal 

">ok back on the age-long, dim and misty world of 
**"" " r "v- tool users and see how bitter and terrible life must 
have been, behind each upward step on that long and some- 
times wavering climb certain shadowy figures begin to take 
form, to stand out beyond the rest for behind the axe, the 
adze, the spear, behind the bow and arrow and the drill, 
behind the weaver and the carpenter, we feel the presence of 
those men who made all these things possible. And as the 
world changes with the coming of metal tools, on down 
through the ages of copper, bronze, iron and steel, these 
shadowy figures become more and more distinct until at last 
we see them clearly the toolmakers, the sons of Vulcan who 
made the world we know. 


//. The Sons of Vulcan 

YOU would think that these, who gave so much to the 
world, would always have been held in high esteem by 
other men. But all too rarely has this been true. For the artisan, 
and especially the metalworker, has been looked upon in many 
ages with a curious combination of awe and disfavour, respect 
and fear. We see this all through the ancient legends, the folk 
tales that have grown up in every part of the world to tell the 
stories of the coming of tools and the invention of the crafts. 

Vulcan was the son of Jupiter and Juno, king and queen of 
the Roman gods. Among the Greeks he was called Hephastus, 
son of Zeus and Hera, their eldest son, brother of Athena, 
Ares, Apollo, Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hermes. Yet his life 
was not spent, like theirs, in the pleasant fields of Olympus. 
When he was but a boy, his father, in anger, hurled him from 
heaven to earth. He was crippled by the fall, and when he 
returned, limping through the golden halls, the other gods 
roared with laughter to see that he was lame. 

Though this is but a legend, it is none the less a true picture 
of the Greek world and the way the Greeks looked on work and 
craftsmen. For Vulcan during his stay on earth had learned to 
work. He became, in fact, the first of all the world's craftsmen 
to the Greeks and Romans. In his shop "imperishable and 
shining as the stars" he had an anvil and twenty bellows that 
blew up the fires at his command. There, with the cross-eyed 
giants, Brontes, Steropes, and Pyracmon, he worked as a smith 
and the world rang to his mighty hammering. 

If there was cruelty in that laughter of the gods, there was 
also fear. For Vulcan had power no other god possessed, and 
though he remained a stranger among his brothers, yet at some 
time or other every one of them sought his aid or received 
from him some priceless gift. It was Vulcan who made Achilles' 
shield, the gates of dawn, and the axle of the chariot of the 

17 B 



sun. He wrought the helmet of Pluto, the trident of Poseidon, 
and even the very thunderbolts that gave to Zeus his power 
over gods and men. 

All the stories that the Greeks wove about their gods and 
heroes were but the reflection of their own daily lives and 
thoughts. To them Vulcan could not be like the other gods, 
because he worked, and the Greeks despised any kind of work. 
Among the Athenians it was an insult to be called a craftsman, 


and in Sparta it was forbidden for any citizen to engage in any 
form of work or trade. To make quite sure no Spartan broke 
this law, their rulers every year went through the solemn mum- 
mery of declaring war against all those who worked in the 
Spartan state, "that they might be outlawed and beyond the 
pale of any rights and privileges as citizens." 

The stories that have come down to us from Homer all 
praise the glory of war, battle and adventure. Hesiod sings of 
the farmer's life, but has little to say of craftsmen. In all the 


old Greek tales and plays, the craftsmen, where mentioned at 

all, are looked upon more often with disdain than honour. 

"Then they came to the 

country of the Chalybes who 

take no thought of plough- 
ing the earth with oxen or 

for the harvest of sweet 

fruits from the orchard, nor 

do they pasture flocks, but 

instead, they burn the iron 

from the heavy earth and 

all they earn they barter for GREEK SMITH 

their daily bread. No day 

dawns but sees them at their heavy labour in a world filled 

with fire and soot and smoke." 
Nor was it only among the Greeks that we find something 

of this same attitude. It comes up again and again in the legends 

of other folk and from other 
times. Loki, the god of the 
Norsemen, was, like Vulcan, 
a metalworker. He, too, 
made companions of giants 
and dwarfs and all manner 
of outlanders. It was he who 
secured the aid of the dwarfs 
in forging Mjollnir, the 
homing hammer of Thor, 
as Vulcan helpers had made 
Zeus's thunderbolts. Yet in 
many folktales of the North, 
Loki, like Vulcan, is always 
a little different from the 
EGYPTIAN SCRIBE other gods. 

Tubal-cain,the Phoenician, 

Hiawatha of the American Indians, Quetzalcoatl of Mexico, 

each was the bringer of the crafts to his people, yet each 


remained, in some strange way, an outsider to those who 
owed him most. 


-ised this setting apart of those who worked from 
It does not always seem to have been so. You have 




only to look at the thousands of pictures of craftsmen drawn or 
carved on the ancient Egyptian temples to see that the artisan 
was once highly honoured among his fellows. Was not the king 
of the Egyptians the chief workman of many crafts? So his 
titles show. Did he not, each spring, plough the first furrow 
that started the farmer's year? 

Yet, in later times, even among the Egyptians the life of the 
craftsman came to be looked upon with scorn. Here is a letter 


written by an Egyptian father to persuade his son to become a 
clerk rather than to enter one of the crafts. 

"I have seen the metalworker at his task at the mouth of the 
furnace, his fingers burned and scarred like a crocodile's skin, he 
stank worse than fish spawn. Every workman who holds a chisel 
suffers more labour than a man who hacks the earth, for him wood 
is the field and his chisel the mattock. At night, when he should be 
free he must still work on until his task is done, sometimes longer 
than his strength can stand. The stonecutter seeks out the hardest 
kind of stone to work and before he has finished his task his arms 
are worn out. The barber shaves until late at night, he goes from 
street to street to seek men to shave. He wears his arms out to fill 
his belly like a bee who eats his work. The boatman, who carries 
goods down the river to the delta, to get their price, does more 
work than his strength can bear, and, in the end, the mosquitoes 
kill him. 

"The farmer has always bills to pay, and these go on to all eternity. 



He cries out louder than the Abu bird. The weaver in his workshop 
is worse off than a woman. He squats all day on his knees and his 
belly does not taste clean air. The courier, starting off for foreign 
lands, leaves his goods to his children, fearing he will be killed on 
the way by lions or Asiatics. The cobbler is wretched. He is for ever 
begging. The bleacher whitens linen on the quay he is the 
companion of crocodiles . . . 

"On the other hand," the letter goes on, "there is no office which 
has not a superior except that of the scribe It is he who com- 
mands. Does he not make the written record? That is what makes 


the difference between him and the man who handles an oar. The 
scribe comes to sit among the great ones of the assembly and no 
scribe fails to eat of the victuals from the king's house." 

Four thousand years ago that was written, yet you can still 
find those in our world who will tell you it is more honourable 
to seek such scraps as may fall from the tables of the rich and 
powerful than to make a clean, free world for yourself by the 
labour of your own two hands. 

Very few think that way to-day and it would not now 
matter much that men held such notions in the past, had not 


this feeling been so widespread in the ancient world, and 
especially, had it not so deeply coloured all the history that 
has come down to us. 

In the beginning, I think, the craftsmen must have been 
looked upon with a good deal of wonder and awe, particularly 
the metalworker. Have you ever seen a billet of white-hot steel 
lifted from the furnace by the iron fingers of a crane and set 
down on the rolling line of a mill? At once the rollers pick the 
glowing billet up; turning and twisting, it seems a living thing 


as it starts through the mill. You have to run to keep abreast 
of it as the rollers squeeze and press the block into shapes. 
Great clouds of steam shoot up as it is chilled, and then, all in 
a moment, it comes off the end of the line flattened into sheets 
or rolled into bars already cut to length and cool enough to be 
lifted in your hand. Not even to-day, with all we know, can 
anyone watch a change so suddenly made without a feeling of 
awe and wonder. 

How then must it have seemed to the ancient folk to watch 
a smith in the darkness of his shop blow up his fire, snatch the 
hot iron, all glowing and spitting sparks, set it on his anvil, 
where, under his hammer, he shaped a tool faster than eye 


could follow the blows? All done in a moment of intense and 
godlike energy. Was there not in those who watched some 
memory of the tens of thousands of years when their fathers 
had made their tools by the infinite labour of chipping and 
grinding stone? Certainly the smith was honoured for his work 
in the beginning, but at some time there came a change. 

The smiths themselves, I think, were responsible for a good 
deal of the myth and superstition that grew up around their 


craft. For they actually did come to draw away from other men. 
In part, this was because they needed ore and charcoal in their 
work, and they set up their shops near where these could be 
found. But that was not the whole reason. They seem to have 
wished to work alone even where ore and charcoal had to be 
brought to them. 

In ancient France and Spain there were whole towns where 
only smiths lived. Here they worked in solitude, allowing no 
other people to come near their shops. They built walls of 
timber and earth around their towns and their shops were 
tunnel-like and partly underground. In these they would work 


for months on end, producing their marvellous metalwork 
tools and implements, swords and spears, helmets and armour, 
bits and harness ornaments. Sometimes they coloured their 
wrought iron with bright enamels, an art we think they in- 
vented. They also knew how to coat one metal with another 
iron with copper, bronze or tin, an art we know they invented. 
They made steel and even are said to have cast iron in moulds, 
which is the most difficult way of working with iron. The fur- 


nace which they invented for smelting ores came in later years 
to be used all over the world, from the wealds of Sussex to 

At certain times of the year, we believe, they closed their 
shops, put out their fires, threw open the gates of their villages 
and held great fairs to which men came to buy the beautiful 
things they had made. 

They were proud of their craft, these ancient Gauls and 
Spanish folk. When any smith among them died he was buried 
under the anvil in his shop with his tools beside him, as a 
soldier is buried with his arms. Yet of the lives of these people 
we know almost nothing, for they shut themselves off from 
the rest of the world. 

We do not need to go back two thousand years to find the 



smith a little mysterious in his work. The tale of Weyland 
Smith, outside whose cave horses were shod by unseen hands, 
is the legend of a man who was both swift and skilful and who 
lived apart from his fellows. 

Biscornet, who made the hinges for Notre Dame of Paris, is 
said, in the old tales, to have sold his soul to the devil how 


else, thought the mediaeval Frenchman, could mortal man do 
work so marvellous? And well they might think so, for even 
to-day, and covered with the many coats of paint that are 
needed to protect them from rust, these wrought-iron bands 
of Biscornet make patterns of such beauty against the crimson 
cathedral doors that your heart will leap in wonder at the crafts- 
manship they show. But Biscornet must have worked alone, or 
if he had helpers they took with them to their graves the 
secrets which he taught them. For the method by which 
Biscornet made these hinges, joining together so many thou- 


sands of small and delicate pieces, was lost for many centuries 
it became known again less than fifty years ago. 

But if this sense of mystery with which the smith so often 
surrounded his work had something to do with the attitude of 
his fellows towards him, it was not its only cause. For in the 
work of the carpenter, the potter and the weaver, the butcher 


and the baker, there was nothing mysterious they all worked 
in open shops in the heart of the town where any who passed 
could watch. Yet they were set apart from their fellows, and 
even in some periods looked upon with scorn by those who 
wrote the records of their times. Certainly we can find little 
enough in the old accounts and histories to tell us how they 
lived and worked or even what they made. We read, instead, 
over and again the glory of battle, war and conquest. 

The scribes who made these records but echoed the thoughts 
and feelings of their own times. The soldier had come to be 
the hero of all stories in a military world over which he and his 


kind ruled by force. The ring of the hammer on the anvil was 
drowned in the beating of drums. There was no one to speak 
for the craftsman and he did not speak for himself. 

Yet if the written record is scant, the tools the craftsmen 
used remain, and many of the things they made exist to tell the 
story of those men who worked on and built, even in times of 
neglect and cruelty, slavery and war, the real foundation of the 
world we know to-day. 

We have come, now, to realize that the history of man is 
more than the mere record of wars and conquest, more than the 
rise and fall of kings and governments, for it must include the 
simple account of the daily lives of those who have created 
things, the farmers, weavers, potters, smiths, artists and crafts- 
*< -Mechanics and discoverers all the inventors and users 
-d machines. 

e have thrown aside the false pride and ignorance 
. ,. >, r,,o,^ Vulcan a stranger among his fellows, and we are rid 

perstition that could only see, in the craftsmanship of 

1 rt -, the work of the devil. We are just beginning to 

" life could be in a world of craftsmen, makers and 

things. Let us, then, look at the story of one of the 
^ .... .*::.:>, that of the metalworkers. Perhaps if we can come 
.^ ~*a Jwiatand what they have already done, how and why, we 
may see more clearly what there is yet to do. 

///. Ancient Mines 

BEFORE there could be any metal tools, there had to be 
metal from which to make them, and this need brought 
into being two ancient crafts, that of the miner and that of the 
ore smelter. Actually mines were known before metals, as long 
ago, in fact, as the early Stone Age, but they were by no means 
common. At that time the usual method of getting flint was to 
dig for it in open pits, but in northern France some flint mines 
have been found that go down into the earth more than thirty 
feet, and that have regular galleries extending from their shafts. 

Mining, however, in the sense of digging into the earth, did 
not become common even with the first use of metal, for gold 
was long known before it was mined. The most ancient gold 
workings were the beds of streams, where the metal was found, 
as a dust or in nuggets, in the sand and gravel from which it 
was separated by washing. The simplest way of washing gold is 
to place the sand and gravel, scooped from the stream bed, in a 
flat pan, which is held level and swung slowly around in circles 
until all the contents have started to swirl. The swirling is a 
spiral motion and its movement is much faster towards the 
outer rim than in the centre. Gradually the lighter particles of 
earth, sand and rock debris move outward towards the lip 
where they can be slopped over from time to time by a slight 
tilt of the pan; while the heavier gold moves towards the centre 
where it can be lifted from among the larger pebbles that 
remain. This is called, by miners, "placer mining," and the gold 
so recovered is called "colour." 

Placer mining is still practised to-day. A man can work alone 
or with a partner. It takes but little equipment and the rewards 
are great to those who succeed in finding gold. But for one such 
miner who makes a strike a score of others spend their lives 
combing the deserts and the mountains of the earth, labouring 
in the heat of Australia and Africa, or freezing through the 




winters of the Klondike and the Yukon, and finding in a life- 
time only enough gold to lure them on to further search. 

In some places placer mining of a sort is done with the aid of 
machinery. Here great streams of water are shot with tremen- 
dous force against a mountainside so that the rock is shattered 
and torn away. This debris is swept into troughs as the water 
rushes down the cliffside, and there it is gathered on moving 
belts where the gold is shaken free. 


We are apt to think that this is quite a modern method, but 
the Roman writer, Pliny, tells us of a mine in Spain where gold 
washing was done over two thousand years ago in almost this 
same way. 

"There," he says, "the workman would bring rivers of water 
from far away, as far as a hundred miles, carrying them along the 
ground in large wooden pipes. Where valleys occurred they built 
great stone aqueducts over which streams could be made to flow, 
from one mountainside to another. In some places it was necessary 
to cut channels right across the faces of cliffs, so steep that the 
workmen had to be hung in the air on ropes and let down from 


3 1 

above. Here, some took the levels and laid out the course of the 
channel while other workmen cut into the rock." 

These men, swinging on their ropes high against the sky, 
seemed to Pliny more like birds than human beings, yet so able 
were they that "for all the difficulty of their task they made 
water flow in places where, before their labour, no man might 
find so much as a spot on which to set his foot." 

With great labour and skill they brought the streams to the 
place where the washing was done, and there they built reser- 
voirs with gates which might be opened when the reservoirs 




were filled and the water let fall with great force upon the gold- 
bearing rock below. This rock, broken and ground to small 
pieces, was swept along in trenches, tumbling and rolling with 
the flow of the stream. The bottoms of these trenches were 
covered with prickly rosemary so that, as the gold dropped 
from the broken ore, it could be caught and held while the 
waste debris was carried on outward towards the sea. From 
time to time these rosemary linings were taken from the 
trenches and burned until only gold and light ash were left. 
Then gentle washing removed the ash and left only pure gold. 
"So great was the amount of broken rock, washed out to sea, 
that the whole of the coast of Spain was extended at this place." 


Five hundred years earlier than this the Greeks had, at Mount 
Laurens, a vast silver mine where the metal was washed from 
the ore. This mine, like almost all Greek mines, belonged to the 
state, but was rented out for short periods to private operators 
who worked it with slaves. Greek writers have called it a place 
of dread and terror, where men died like flies, and this we may 


well believe, for the galleries from which the ore was dug were 
so shallow that a man must work either kneeling or lying on his 
belly. No one, however strong, could live for long at such 
labour, working cramped in a little space, without rest, and 
choked by the foul air which settled there. 

The ore was crushed under stone mill-wheels turned by 
hand. Nearby there was a terrace built of flat stones, cemented 
together. Water was brought to this terrace in a canal and the 
wet, crushed ore was swept back and forth on the stone floor 



with brooms until the silver had dropped out and could be 
gathered. All this work was done by hand, slow and bitter 
labour, digging, crushing, washing and picking over piece by 
piece the broken rock. Seven million tons of debris lie there 
to-day, below the mine, the awful testament of five hundred 
years of cruelty and greed. When, some day, you may see the 
temple of the Parthenon rise glorious above the city of Athens, 
give a thought to the miners 
of Mount Laurens who paid 
for it. 

Open-pit mining, especi- 
ally for copper and iron, 
was known in the ancient 
world, and we still mine 
this way. In Utah, U.S.A., 
there is such a mine where 
the three sides of a moun- 
tain valley have been cut 
into vast terraces, one above 
the other, like huge nested 
horseshoes. Railroad tracks 
placed on these carry trains 
of ore cars, and powerful 
shovels rip away and load 
them with enough ore to 
make two hundred thou- 
sand tons of copper every year. I do not think that that 
much copper was mined in all the world in the thousand 
years that Greece and Rome endured. 

But by far the most interesting and usual method of mining 
is to burrow into the earth with tunnels, shafts, and galleries, 
following the veins and reefs of ore wherever they may lead. 
We do not know when the first mines were dug. They have 
been known from the earliest times in Egypt, India and Spain. 
Spain was especially the treasure-house of metals in the ancient 
world. There copper and gold, silver, lead, iron, tin and mer- 




cury were found. We hear of a Roman mine there that descended 
over a mile and a half into the earth, where the miners broke 
the ore from the gallery walls with sledges and picks, and other 
men standing in line passed the broken rock from hand to hand 
until it reached the pit-mouth. They worked by the light of 
torches, and only those whose station was near the entrance 
saw the light of day for months on end. But long before the 

coming of the Romans, 
the Carthaginians had 
opened and worked many 
mines m Spain. One of 
these, the Rio Tinto, was so 
rich that, although it was 
old in the days of Hanni- 
bal, it is still being worked 
to-day. How much metal 
the Carthaginians took from 
Spain we do not know. 
They paid eight hundred 
thousand pounds of silver 
in annual tribute to the city 
of Rome, after their defeat, 
yet this could have been 
as nothing to the whole 
amount of metal they must 
have mined in the centuries that had gone before. 

We have an account of a mine in Egypt that was even older 
than those of Carthage, Greece and Rome. The story of this 
mine comes to us from a writer who lived two thousand years 
ago. Yet he himself is repeating a tale that came to him from 
even earlier times: "The kings of Egypt gather together and 
condemn to mining such men as have been guilty of some 
crime. They also send captives of war and even those who have 
been unjustly accused by evil persons. Not only is the guilty 
man sent, but all his family and relatives as well, for great profit 
is to be gained by the king from their labour." 




Those condemned must work both night and day, enjoying 
no rest and cut off from escape. None of these persons was 
given any chance to take care of his body. The sick, the lame, 
the weary and the aged, women as well as men, were compelled 
to work in chains under the blows of the overseer. The guards 
of these prisoners were chosen from among foreign soldiers 
who could not speak the language of the condemned workers, 
and this was done so that no guard might be moved to pity 
through the pleading of his prisoners. 

The whole mine was in charge of an overseer who pointed 


out where the work was to be done. The strongest prisoners 
plied heavy hammers, bringing no skill to their task, only force, 
and they cut tunnels through the rock to follow the vein of 
gold. Within the mines, men worked in darkness except for 
such light as was given by their lamps. They threw to the 
ground the blocks of ore which they had broken away, and 
boys, not yet grown, crawled through the galleries gathering 
these pieces which they carried out of the mine. 

Those older and weaker than the heavy workers broke up 
the quarried ore with hammers or under grinding stones until 
it was about the size of peas. The women and the old men 
received this ore and cast it into other mills which stood near 
by, in a row, and ground it under mill-wheels until it was like 
a fine powder. 


This ore dust was then placed on a sloping board where 
water was passed over it until all the earth was washed away, 
leaving the heavy rock. What was left was picked up and 
rubbed between the hands and then lightly sponged until only 
pure gold remained. Skilled workmen took this gold dust and 
put a measure of it, mixed with a lump of lead, some salt, a little 
tin and some barley bran, into a clay pot on which they fastened 


a lid with mud. These pots were then baked for five days and 
five nights, and when cool were broken open, and in each of 
them there was found a cake of pure gold. For all this sounds 
a little like a witch's brew, it actually was, in principle, good 

Probably all the mines of Egypt, Carthage, Greece and Rome 
were not so terrible and cruel for those who worked as these 
we have just heard about, but very likely most of them were, 



for these are the only accounts of ancient mining that have 
come down to us. Small mines of the ancient world worked by 
a few men were probably something like the small mines in 
China of to-day. The shaft of one of these mines is about five 
feet across, and the sides are protected by wicker work. Over 
the shaft is a crude windlass which is turned by wooden cranks 
with one man on each end of the beam. On the beam there is a 


rope, so coiled that an empty basket goes down each time a full 
one is pulled up. The miners themselves go down in the basket, 
one at a time, holding on to the rope. They have lamps made of 
porcelain in which vegetable oil and a rush wick furnish the 
flame. The men stay underground three hours at a stretch and 
they tell this length of time by an incense stick which they light 
and which will burn exactly that long. In each shift there are 
two men and a boy. 
Even in the great mines in the ancient world the owners 


learned in time to take better care of their workmen. After all, 
a slave cost ten pounds in Athens and a mine superintendent 
three hundred, which is just three times as much as was paid for 
the great Greek teacher, Plato, when he was sold as a slave. 
They learned to shore and timber their tunnels and shafts to 
prevent slides and cave-ins, and they invented ways of bringing 
fresh air to the miners working deep in the earth. They knew 
that, quite often, dangerous gases are found in mines, so they 
used to let down lighted lamps into their mine shafts as a test 
for poisonous gases before the miners would enter them. If 


:. gas was present the lamp would go out. But even 

v, Lw.^ Lhcre was no poisonous gas the still air in a mine is soon 
made foul and exhausted where men are working. To overcome 
this the Romans used to build a fire at the bottom of one of 
their shafts so that the heated air when rising from this shaft 
would draw fresh air down through other shafts into the mine. 
What is even more extraordinary, they also knew that you 
could keep air fairly fresh by stirring it, and this they did by 
shaking linen cloths. It has been but a few years since we, our- 
selves, relearned that air could be made fresh, even in a closed 
room, by stirring. 

It was really water more than gases, however, that made 
ancient mining so difficult. A vast amount of water is con- 
stantly flowing under the surface of the earth, and when mine 
shafts and tunnels have been dug this water will sometimes 



seep through their walls so fast that it will fill them. In some of 
the Roman mines the water was bailed out in buckets passed 
from hand to hand along lines of slaves stationed from the 
farthest interior to the pit-mouth. But more often some sort of 
pump was used. 

The Egyptians had long ago learned to make a number of 
kinds of pump. These they used to lift water from canals to 


turn it on to their fields. Some of these were sweeps and others 
were continuous belts which carried small scoops, each of 
which could lift a little water and carry it to a higher level 
where it was dumped. Archimedes, the Greek, invented a 
pump, made like a screw, which turned inside a cylinder and in 
so turning lifted water from one level to another. But none of 
these pumps could raise water very high. To do that you must 
have a whole series of them in line in order to lift the water 
from the inside of the mine to the pit head. The Romans used 
water-wheels, one of which, about fifteen feet in diameter, has 


been found in a Roman mine in Spain. Vitruvius, a Roman 
engineer, tells of a pump worked in his day by men and 
animals. From his description it would appear to have been a 
reversed paddle wheel. It was not, however, until late in the 
Middle Ages that good pumps were made. Before that time the 
depth of all mines was limited by the kind of pumps that could 
be used. 

IV. Medieval and Modern Mines 

we know as much as we do about the mines and 
JL metals of the Middle Ages is due to the work of a man 
named Georgius Agricola. Agricola was born in Germany late 
in the fifteenth century and died there in 1555. He was inter- 
ested in everything that happened in the world in which he 
lived, but above all he was most interested in mining, and he set 
down in a book, which he called De Re Metallica, all the great 
knowledge and experience he had gained through a long and 
busy life. 

Here he tells the story of mining as he has heard it from the 
folk tales and traditions of his country and here he shows all 
the methods and processes used in his own day how mines 
were found, how surveyed, what tools were used, how water 
was pumped and air changed in the mines. He tells of the crush- 
ing, washing, smelting and assaying of ores and metals. All this 
is done with great care and exactness, yet there is nothing dry 
or dull in Agricola' s book. All through it you feel again and 
again that his real concern is with the man who does the work. 

Miner, metalworker, smelter, inventor, scholar, man of 
affairs that he was, Agricola never forgot that he himself was a 
miner first and last. He was proud of his craft and he cared 
deeply for the simple folk among whom he worked and spent 
his life. He wrote his book, I think, as a lesson and a guide to 
other miners and mineowners, pointing out to them the need 
of better mining methods, and above all that mines must be 
made safe and miners treated with fairness and decency. 

He had very clear ideas about gases, dust and timbering. He 
showed the need of proper ventilation, and he described a 
score of ways with which to improve it ducts to lead air 
through the mines, bellows and fans to move it along. 

He studied pumps and described many of them piston 
pumps with metal or leather valves, chain of buckets turned on 




drums that were operated by machines. He showed how water, 
wind, animals or men could be used to furnish power to work 
the pumps or to raise the ore to the surface. These were 
machines, crude enough it is true, but none the less true 
machines. They led the way to the machine world of to-day. 
It was, indeed, the need of better mine pumps that brought 
about the invention of the steam-engine some one hundred and 
fifty years after Agricola's time. 

In his book Agricola tells about the small mines in the moun- 
tain country of his day where the ore was taken out and stored 
until winter came, and then placed on sleds which were guided 
down the mountainside by the miners. In some places the ore 
was put into sacks made of pigskin, which the men dragged 
down the mountain, by hand, in places where it was too steep 
for horses or mules. In winter weather they would sometimes 
slide down the mountain slope, sitting on their sacks, and guid- 
ing these with sticks "Not," says Agricola, "without risk!" 



In deep mines they brought their ore out on little carts and 
barrows that ran on wooden rails. The mines in those days in 
Germany were privately owned. When a man found a prospect 
of metal he went to the burgomaster to establish his claim. 
The burgomaster would then stake out the mine-head and 
measure off nine parcels of land in each direction. Three of these 
each side of the mine head went to the discoverer, one to the 
king, one to the king's consort, one to his master of horse, one 

to his cupbearer, one to the 
groom of the king's chamber 
and one to the burgomaster. 
In England, in Anglo- 
Saxon times, the mines were 
originally owned by the king 
and worked under lease by 
miners. Then there was a 
long period of struggle be- 
tween the king and the 
landlords as to who owned 
the mines. Under the Nor- 
mans this was settled the 
state retaining ownership of 
mines regardless of who 


struggle went on and one 

result of the victory of the barons at Runnymede was to break 
the claim of the crown to mine ownership. Thereafter, the 
crown still received a royalty from the mines, but the landlords 
owned the mineral. As late as the seventeenth century any 
miner who wanted to could prospect the "common land" in 
England. But this was stopped when all the "common land" 
was usurped by the great landlords. 

In Agricola's day the miners worked in three shifts of from 
three to seven hours each, and they were not expected to work 
longer than that, "except in times of great necessity." "Then," 
says Agricola, "whether they draw water from the shafts or 


mine the ore, they keep their vigil by the light of lamps. To 
prevent themselves from falling asleep, through the late hours 
or from fatigue, they lighten their long and heavy labours by 
singing which is neither wholly untrained nor unpleasing." 
Agricola also says that "in some places a miner is not allowed 
to work two shifts in succession because it often happens that 
he either falls asleep in the mine, overcome by exhaustion from 


too much labour, or he arrives too late for his shift or he leaves 
sooner than he ought. But elsewhere he is allowed to do so 
because he cannot subsist on the pay earned in one shift, 
especially if provisions grow dearer/' 

A bell in the mines was rung to signal to the miners to come 
to the mine for their shift, and those inside were warned that 
relief was near when the overseer stamped on the pithead. 
They, in turn, passed the word along by signal taps of their 


hammers, but in any case they would have known when seven 
hours had passed, for their lamps were made to carry only 
enough oil for that length of time. 

The workmen in these mines were divided into crews. There 
were miners, shovellers, windlass men, carriers, sorters, washers 
and smelters. To get the ore out they used picks and sledges, 
and sometimes they drove wedges into the cracks to break 

away large blocks. Where 
the rock was very hard, 
fire was sometimes used, 
but this custom is very 

Pliny tells about the use 
of fire in mines in Roman 
days, saying, "occasion- 
ally a very hard rock was 
met with which must be 
broken with fire and 
vinegar." And Livy speaks 
of this, too, adding that, 
"the fire must be lit only 
when the wind is right." 
Just why they used 
vinegar we do not know. 
There is an old tale that 
when Hannibal was cross- 
ing the Alps he cut passages 

through which his elephants could march, and these were said 
to have been made by pouring vinegar into crevices to eat away 
the rock. Vinegar is an acid, and it might possibly have a little 
effect upon a rock, but it most certainly is not strong enough to 
eat a rock away. Fire was used because rock, when heated, has 
a tendency to crumble; in fact some of it will explode. In these 
Roman mines, however, it was much more common to use 
battering rams to break loose the mass of rock. These were 
huge beams, slung on ropes, which could be made to strike the 



mine wall with great force. Fire was dangerous in a mine, for 
the galleries might become filled with suffocating smoke and 
fumes. In late mediaeval times, when fire was used, all mining 
workmen were required to stay out of the mine, and no per- 
mission was given any mine to use fire if there was any chance 
that the smoke might seep into neighbouring galleries. This 
method of mining was still in use in England in the seventeenth 


century and in Norway and Sweden up to about a hundred 
years ago. In 1627 gunpowder was first used for blasting in 
Germany, where many inventions and improvements in mining 
were first made. 

The oldest map of a mining region comes from the Egyptians 
of over three thousand years ago. In the Middle Ages when the 
survey of a mine had been made the whole map was laid out 
again in full size on a level field in the neighbourhood, and this 
field was called the "surveyor's field." 

One of the curious superstitions of mining that has lasted 
from the most ancient times to our own day is that mines can 
be found by the use of a "divining rod." This was a fork, cut 

4 8 


from a tree, that had two handholds and a long projecting point 
which turned upwards slightly. It was believed that if you held 
such a stick in your hands, with the clenched fingers upwards, 
and walked over land, then the point of the stick would turn 
downwards when you came to a place where metals could be 
found. Hazel twig was thought to be best for silver, ash for 
copper, pitch pine for lead and tin, iron rods for gold. These 
were sometimes called "witching sticks," and even so intelli- 
gent a man as Robert Boyle, founder of the Royal Society, 



believed in them. They were also used to find water as well as 
metals. I have known, in our own day, very able miners and 
well-drillers who would not think of prospecting a mine or 
digging a well without having first used a witching stick to find 
it. Certain men were thought to have unusual powers with the 
divining rod, and these diviners were always in demand by 
miners seeking metal or well-drillers seeking water. Of course, 
there may be no truth in this superstition, but mining is a 
dangerous and difficult labour it brings sudden and great 
rewards as well as quick and terrible disasters. It is not sur- 
prising, then, that a good many superstitions grew up about 


One of these tells of a race of little people called gnomes who 
lived in the mines but were rarely seen. They really did nothing, 
although they made a pretence of being very busy. Sometimes 
they threw pebbles, in play, at the miners, for they were full of 
fun and liked to play practical jokes, but they never injured any- 
one unless severely provoked. Almost all the German miners 
of the Middle Ages believed in gnomes, and I have seen 
Mexicans of our own time 
set out little cups of wine 
and bread for the tiny folk 
who live in the earth. 

Mining methods im- 
proved quite rapidly after 
the days of Agricola; 
better pumps were in- 
vented, and a great variety 
of ventilators and hoists 
were tried out. The in- 
vention of gunpowder and 
its use for blasting must 
have made a tremendous 
difference in the work of 
miners. But it was not 
really until quite modern 
times that mining became 
the vast and important 
industry that it is to-day. 
Two things, it seems to 
me, brought this about. 

One of them was the beginning of the use of coal for fuel, 
and the other the invention of the steam-engine. The use of 
coal began about the time of Queen Elizabeth, but it did not 
come into its own as the great modern fuel until the age of 
machinery began. 

Machinery had long been in use before the invention of the 
steam-engine. The Egyptians and Babylonians had used 



machines for pumping water and the Romans had used grind- 
ing mills and water-wheels. We hear of windmills in ancient 
Persia and treadmills worked by men or animals in almost all 
the ancient countries. But after the fall of Rome the use of 
mills died out and it was not until about the fifteenth century 
that they came back into favour again. The earliest of these 
seem to have been in Spain, and shortly after there was a mill 
in France. We hear of an old mill in England about the time of 
King John. "There was a windmill standing near the nunnery 


without Ridingate, which the hospital held by grant of the 
nuns there. The condition mutually agreed upon at the time of 
this grant was: that the nuns, bearing the fourth part of the 
charge of the mill, should reap the fourth part of the profit of 
it and have their own corn ground there for them, when they 
would, gratis and free of cost." The hospital side of the bargain 
seems to have been to build a road from the highway to the mill. 
Almost all of this early machinery was entirely made of wood 
wooden gears, cogs, beams, bearings and wheels. Those 
parts which bore most of the wear were made of oak, ash, 
hickory, or best of orange wood. Mills in America as late as the 













Revolutionary War were made of wood; some of these are still 
working, having been rebuilt and repaired. But about the 
beginning of the nineteenth century, when so much machinery 
was coming into use looms for weavers, jennies for spinners, 
sawmills, corn-grinding mills and a world of small machines 
metal then began to be used for mill parts. With the invention 




of the steam-engine, the steamboat, and the railroad, the 
demand for steel grew enormously. All of this greatly increased 
the employment of the miner. Mines were driven farther and 
farther into the earth, and ore was sought in every part of the 

According to a report published in 1769, the deepest mine in 
England was at Ecton Hill in Staffordshire being four hun- 
dred yards from the hilltop to the mine floor. Access, however, 



could be gained to the shaft at a much lower level, so that the 
actual descent was but one hundred and sixty yards. It was a 
copper mine. "In descending from the principal lodgment," so 
goes the account, "you pass thirty ladders, some half broken, 
others not half staved; in some places there were but half-cut 
steps in the rock; in others you must almost slide on your 


breeches, and often in imminent danger of tumbling topsy- 
turvy into the mine." 

Sixty men worked below in this mine in six-hour shifts 
receiving twopence the hour. The ore was drawn to the plat- 
form at the shaft-head by a man working a winch and then 
taken along the traverse to the pit-head in waggons which 
carried one and a half tons of ore. These waggons had cast 
brass wheels which ran in grooves cut in the traverse floor. 
They were pushed by boys of twelve and fourteen years of age. 

The ore was then broken up by men and carried to the 


sorting sheds by little boys using handbarrows. In the sorting 
sheds the broken ore was sorted by little girls and then further 
broken or buckled by women who used small hammers for this 
work. Finally the ore was washed and taken to the smelter 
where it brought from nine to eighteen pounds per ton. 

When smelted and cast in bars the metal sold for from ninety 
to one hundred and fifteen pounds a ton. 

Men, women and children worked in this mine; the women 
earning from fivepence to tenpence a day, while the children 


received from twopence-halfpenny to five pence for the same 

The writer of the report says that the mine gave employment 
to all the labouring poor in the near-by parishes assuring 
steady work to both sexes and all ages from five to sixty years. 
There seemed nothing wrong to this writer in the ages of these 
workers, their wages, and their working conditions. The author 
of the report points with pride to the fact that the Duke of 
Devonshire, who was the owner of this mine, made a clear 
profit of between 10,000 and 12,500 each year from this 


In our own day mining is one of the very great industries 
of the world. Each day over six million men go down into the 
earth to seek the ores that make our metals and the fuel that 
smelts these ores, runs our factories and heats our homes. A 
drawing is given of a modern mine, showing the shafts and 

tunnels, galleries and 
stopes that make up a 
network of streets and 
avenues for these cities 
underground. Railroad 
tracks are laid along these 
passages to the furthest 
workings in the mine, and 
on these ore cars pass to 
and fro, carrying the ore 
to the hoists which lift it 
to the surface at the pit- 
head. Electric plants fur- 
nish light and power. No 
longer is the miner's life 
so often endangered by the 
explosion of underground 
gases set on fire by a 
miner's light, for since the 
time of Faraday and Davy, 
when the modern miner's 
lamp was invented, this 
dreaded danger has been 
much reduced. Power is now used to operate drills and 
borers, channelling machines and air hammers that rip 
away the rock or strip the ore from face and wall, doing the 
work in a moment that in an older age required the heavy 
labour of many men. Dynamite and nitroglycerine blast great 
masses of rock or open the seams of ore or coal. 

Shores and timbering of wood, steel and concrete support 
the walls and ceilings and protect the men from cave-in and 



falling rock. Clean, fresh air is pumped throughout the mine 
while other pumps draw out the foul air and any gases that 
might collect. Enormous water-pumps, capable of lifting 
millions of gallons of water a day, keep dry the interior of 
even the deepest mine. At the pit-head there are showers and 


At the surface of the earth are the ventilating pumps, the power plant 
which furnishes power to the water-pumps in the mine; power also to 
operate hoists and cars and to furnish light. Ore lies in the earth in layers 
sandwiched between larger layers of rock. The vent, pump and main 
shafts pierce down through these layers. Spreading off at different levels 
and in different directions are the galleries which tap the ore 

locker rooms where every miner coming up may wash away 
his weariness and soil and leave his working clothes behind. 
In many countries now every task, every machine, every change 
made in a modern mine is controlled by law and watched over 
by inspectors to see that the rigid regulations laid down by 


governments are obeyed. But this is not true everywhere. In 
South Africa, South America and in Asia there are still mines 
to-day that are almost as terrible as the mines of ancient Egypt 
and Greece. Even in Europe and in the United States there 
are mines to-day that have no place in a world that knows what 
we know. 

There are accidents even in the modern mines and sometimes 
terrible disasters, where hundreds of men are buried and 


crushed under the fall of rock. These disasters grow less each 
year, and the time should come when there would be none of 
them at all. For we are at last beginning to learn that the labour 
of all men must be made safe for them, and that no gain is 
worth the price of any workman's life. 

What a far cry the clean, efficient, modern mines are from 
those of Greece and Rome, Egypt and ancient Spain. In those 
older mines men worked as slaves, spending the brief span of 
their lives in darkness and eternal danger. Yet these ancient 




folk sought almost all the ores we seek to-day, and they knew 
almost as much about mining as we do ventilation, timbering, 
the pumping of water, the hoisting of ore, the need of safety 
but they did very little to develop and improve these things. 

Theirs was a slave world and slaves were plentiful. Such 

labour, they thought, was cheaper than building and using 

machines. Actually this was not so, quite the opposite it was 

terribly wasteful of life and energy. Despite all the thousands 

of mines that were worked, some of them for centuries, and 

the millions of miners who laboured in them, I doubt very 

much if as much ore was taken from the earth throughout the 

whole of ancient history as is produced to-day in a single year 

bv modern workmen free men who are trained to their jobs, 

win* <uc equipped with proper tools and machines, who work 

' flnd are paid a fair wage. Not only was the amount of 

i and metal smelted so much less in the ancient world 

ours, but their metals were far more costly than are 

*> .- ,,, H a y. You and I can buy copper or bronze implements-, 

* - ~ - - "*eel tools that would have been beyond the means of 

- -* : few in the ancient world. 

changes that have made this possible changes in 

., urk and in the work life of the workmen, improvc- 

m~^> ,*i wages and hours, safety, tools and training these 

JIu nut come quickly or easily. On the contrary, they were 

fought for step by step down through the centuries. 

V. Metals 

THE first of all the metals used by man was gold, and this 
seems to have been true everywhere in the ancient world. 
Rings and bracelets, collar and breast ornaments, beautiful in 
design and workmanship, have been found in the ancient 
tombs and buried towns of such widely separated places as 
Sumeria and Ireland, Egypt and Peru. Most, if not all, of this 
early gold came from stream beds rather than from mines, and, 
as we have seen, it is not difficult to pan the dust or nuggets 
of gold from the gravel and sands of gold-bearing streams. 
Then, too, free raw gold was quite probably much more 
common then than now. But even so, it is hard to understand 
just why these ancient folk wanted gold at all. It certainly was 
of no use to them for making tools, being both far too soft 
and scarce. Yet, from a time altogether lost in the mists of the 
past, men have sought for gold as we seek it to-day, risking 
their lives, undergoing terrible hardships and travelling 
immense distances to get it. It does not seem to have been 
because it represented money to them then as it does to us now, 
for among both ancient folk and peoples of much later times 
other things served for money long before gold was so used; 
shells and beads in Stone Age Europe, pearls and copper 
among the American Indians, iron treated with vinegar in 
Spartan Greece, copper rings in Gaul, even stone mill wheels 
in the South Sea Islands. Yet at a time somewhat after the 
beginning of farming, there began a great moving about over 
the earth of the early food-raising folk; and from the traces they 
have left behind it appears that, whatever else they did, they 
all of them hunted gold. 

These first farming folk raised their crops by irrigation that 
is, they built dams or dug trenches that could turn the water 
from a stream to flood their fields. While this was quite 
necessary in rainless countries like the Nile and Mesopotamian 










valleys, where farming seems to have begun, it was not at all 
needed in other parts of the world to which some of these first 
farmers moved. But they did it none the less, and so to-day 
we can follow these ancient irrigating folk through western 
Asia, India and China by the trenches that they dug. And 
wherever we find these old irrigation works, they are located 
almost without exception along the banks of a stream that once 
bore gold. 

Later farming folk left even more permanent marks behind. 
For it became their custom to build, wherever they went, either 
pyramids of earth, stone, or brick, or to construct great circles 
of rock set on end. Just as we can follow the earlier peoples, 
so can we trace these later stone-circle and pyramid builders all 
over the world by the monuments they left behind. You will 
find pyramids or the traces of them in Egypt, Mesopotamia, 
India, China, and across the South Seas to Central America, 
Mexico and Peru, while stone circles appear all about the 
Mediterranean Sea and northward through France to the 
British Isles. And all through this great belt around the earth 
we find evidence of the use of gold. In some places other metals 
came, in time, to be mined copper, tin, silver, lead and iron, 
but in only a few places were all of these produced, even when 
they were near at hand and easier to be had than gold. 

You might say the ancient folk wanted gold for ornaments, 
and people have certainly liked to wear ornaments from the 
earliest times animal teeth and ivory, amber, jet, pearls and 
jade, even coloured shells. But while men have gone great 
distances to get these bits of jewellery, they made no such 
tremendous journeys, nor did they face such dangers, as were 
faced in the search for gold. 

Gold is an odd metal in many ways. It does not rust away 
like iron, nor tarnish as most other bright metals do. It is so 
easily worked that you can flatten a piece of it into sheets so 
thin that two hundred thousand of them will make a pile only 
one inch high. Or you can draw a single grain of gold into a 
wire over five hundred feet in length. And these ancient folk 


knew how to make both sheets and wire, although theirs were 
not so fine as this. Certainly with such a metal you could make 
quite delicate, beautiful and lasting ornaments. But is that 

enough to account for all 
the tremendous urge there 
seems to have been to 
seek it? 

Gold is a yellow metal, 
bright and shining when it 
is polished the colour of 
the sun and that, in itself, 
is perhaps the answer: for 
gold may have seemed to 
these simple folk to be a 
piece of the sun found on 
earth. And every one of 
these early gold - seeking 
peoples, whether the Mayas 

Incas of America, the South Sea Islanders or the 
farming folk of China, India, Mesopotamia, Egypt,, Spain and Britain, were all of them worshippers 


the reason for ^ 

its beginning, this early 

search for gold was to ^/** 

become a matter of more 
importance to us than 
even gold itself has ever 
been. For it led to the use 
of the other metals; and 
that path, first traced 
around the earth by the 
gold seekers, was to be fol- 
lowed by the maker of copper, bronze, iron and steel tools. 
Once the age of metals had started, it spread through the 
world with such swiftness that the million-year-long 



twilight of the Stone Ages changed into the world we know 
to-day in what, by comparison, would seem but a moment 
of time. 

Copper followed gold; then came tin, lead, silver and iron. 
Before the beginning of history almost every one of the base 
metals had been discovered and used, though some that are 
quite common now were rare in the early days. 

How soon after the search for gold came the discovery and 
use of copper we do not know certainly it was long before 
the beginning of history. Lucretius, a Roman writer of about 
two thousand years ago, thought that gold, silver, copper, iron 
and lead were all discovered at the same time as the result of 
a forest fire which had melted these metals from the earth. 


"causing them to run from the earth in boiling veins." We 
know now, however, that copper and tin came into use some 
time before silver and lead and a long time before iron. 

Copper is a fairly soft, reddish-brown metal. It was found 
quite plentifully all over the ancient world, especially in Cyprus, 
the Greek island from which it gets its name. 

Tin is a heavy metal, silver white in colour, and scarce in 
the ancient world. It was sometimes found in stream beds as 
free nuggets, just as gold was found; and sometimes it was 
mined. Copper and tin when melted together make the alloy, 
bronze, and bronze was so important in the life and work of 
the metalworker that we shall tell of its use in a separate 
chapter. Meanwhile let us look at some of the other early metals 
which, while not so old as copper, gold and tin, had none the 




less their own places of importance in the early metalworker's 

Silver, like gold, is one of the precious metals first sought for 
ornament and later used for coins. In the early days silver seems 
to have been prized almost as much as gold itself. It is a white 
and shining metal which can be beaten into sheets or stretched 

into threads. It is harder 
than gold and will, in time, 
tarnish and lose its lustre. 

For some reason the 
Romans seem to have de- 
sired silver more than they 
did gold. When the armies 
of Carthage had been de- 
feated and forced to pay 
tribute to Rome, the tribute 
demanded was in silver, not 
gold, although the Romans 
must have known that the 
Carthaginians had long 
worked some of the great 
gold mines of the ancient 

The Romans made cloth 
woven of silver thread, and 
they are even said to have 

DANISH SWORDS covered their war machines 

with silver. I am not sure 

just why they did this. A writer of their times said: "it 
made these engines bright so that they could be seen from 
afar," so it may have been the Romans' purpose to 
frighten their enemies with a show of flashing war machines. 

Silver came early into use for ornaments, money, mirrors and 
tableware. The Egyptians and the Sumerians made silver beads, 
necklaces and bracelets almost as early as they made these 
things of gold. 


The use of silver for coin seems to have begun in the country 
of Lydia in Asia Minor a country noted for its wealth and 
from there the custom seems to have spread throughout the 
ancient world. At all the great museums you may see collections 
of coins that have come down to us from ancient countries, 
many of them beautiful in design, showing arms and ships' 
prows, sacred animals, 
gods and kings on their 
faces. In fact the story of 
the coins of the world 
would be a fascinating one 
though it is too long to be 
told here. 

The rich and powerful, 
the kings and priests of the 
ancient world, used gob- 
lets, plates, bowls and 
dishes of silver on their 
tables and in their religious 
ceremonies. But it is doubt- 
ful if silver tableware was 
at all as common then as 
it is now. A Carthaginian 
embassy, which had been 
sent to Rome, returned 
to Carthage and complained 
that Rome must be a very poor city indeed, for although 
they had been entertained in all the great houses, "the same 
set of silver dinner dishes appeared on every table, having 
been loaned from household to household, wherever the 
ambassador was to dine." 

The use of silver for mirrors seems to me even more inter- 
esting. The first metal mirrors were made of bronze, cast and 
polished. Later a mixture of lead, silver and copper was used. 
But polished bronze does not really reflect very well, and silver 
tarnishes easily. To avoid this, the Egyptians stained their 



mirrors black by rubbing them with the yolk of an egg. A 
black surface may not give quite as good a reflection as a 
silver one, but it does not tarnish either. 

There do not seem to have been any glass mirrors, even in 
Roman times, for although they knew how to make glass and 
thin sheets of silver or tin they did not know how to apply 
these to glass. Polished metal mirrors of silver, bronze and 
sometimes steel, were in common use as late as the sixteenth 
century. About the thirteenth century, thin sheets of metal were 
set between glass plates for mirrors, and about two hundred 
years later a German inventor discovered a method of making 
mirrors by the use of tin and mercury. To do this the glass 
was first cleaned and polished and then an extremely thin sheet 
. ii" i in applied to it. When this had been smoothed out evenly 
i whole surface it was covered with mercury which 
cly stuck to the tin. All this had to be done with great 

- rnat no air bubbles or moisture should get between the 
"' "nd the glass surface. Finally the glass was placed under 

- y weight to squeeze out any excess mercury and the 

-as ready for use. 

made in this way were far better than the polished 
..^rors that had gone before, but they were a good deal 
,,,,>. c, difficult to make than it sounds. Sheet tin is very fragile 
and udicate to handle, and to get a perfect mirror it is necessary 
that the tin should cover the glass exactly and evenly. The 
most skilful mirror makers of this period were the Venetians, 
whose bull's-eye mirrors with delicately curved surfaces were 
once prized above all others. Even simple mirrors must have 
been difficult to make and quite probably too expensive for 
very common use. 

About one hundred years ago a new method of making 
mirrors was discovered in Germany and perfected in France. 
This discovery came by accident when Leibig, a German 
scientist, noticed that a certain salt of silver stuck to a glass 
vessel in which he had placed it. About thirty years later the 
process of applying silver to glass was perfected and, as it was 


quite simple, mirrors began to come more and more into 
common use. To-day you buy for sixpence a mirror that would 
have cost a small fortune in Roman or Egyptian days. 

Although mercury was not used for mirrors in the ancient 
world, it was quite well known. Its most common use was in 
purifying gold and silver ores, for mercury has the curious 
property of being able to pick up gold or silver dust. A Roman 
writer, Vitruvius, tells how the fine clothing of rich Romans 
was burned when it became too old to wear, and the ashes were 
mixed with mercury. This was done because the Romans used 
to decorate their robes with gold embroidery, far too precious 
a metal to be thrown away. The mercury would separate the 
gold from the ash, then the mixture of mercury and gold would 
be put into a fine cloth bag and squeezed, much as is done in 
making cheese. When this was done, all the mercury would 
sweat out through the cloth, leaving behind pure gold. 

The Greeks knew about mercury and used it in medicine, but 
they do not seem to have known exactly what it was. Aristotle 
called it "liquid silver." The Romans got their mercury by 
heating the ore until the metal became a gas which could be 
captured in vessels and chilled until it became a liquid. Pliny 
says that the making of mercury was very dangerous, some- 
times causing the workmen to lose their teeth through breath- 
ing the fumes. To avoid this, they always worked with their 
backs to the wind, "so that any escaping fumes or gas might 
be blown away from them." They used forms of mercury in 
their colours, the rich Roman vermilion, for instance, but even 
in this form it was quite dangerous to work with, so the colour 
makers wore helmets of skin through which they could see 
well enough, and which protected their eyes as well as their 
lungs. These were quite probably the first gas-masks. 

Although mercury had been known all through ancient 
history, no one actually knew what it really was until the days 
of the alchemists of the Middle Ages. It was one of these, 
Albert le Grand, who discovered pure, free mercury. These 
mediaeval folk, however, for all their knowledge of metal, 


thought there was something magic about mercury, and they 
were a little afraid of it. This is not difficult to understand. It 
is a curious metal, almost like a thing alive. Its common name 
is quicksilver. We use mercury to-day in medicines, mirrors, 
colours, electric lights and thermometers. 

Lead probably followed silver as a useful metal. Sometimes 
it was mixed with bronze, to which it gives a rich, dark colour. 
It also causes bronze to flow more easily into moulds. The 

more common use of lead, 
however, was for roofs, 
pipes and paints. In Baby- 
Ion the roofs of the ter- 
races that formed the 

I* WG P\ "K V'L 1 Vy? Han S in g Gardens were 
' - -- '-' ^ made of lead. In Rome it 
was very common for 
roofs, gutter and water 

w^ The R mans g ot 

some of their lead from 
AOMAN LEAD PIGS Britain, but probably most 

of it came from Spain. 

. _^nt lead smelters in both places made a practice of 
. .MU.I lead in lumps of convenient size for the plumbers. 
i ncsc \vere marked with their weight and sometimes 
with the date and the name of the founder. Many such 
lumps, called "pigs," have been found in England and Spain. 
In Rome itself water was piped to the houses just as we pipe 
it to our own to-day. Lead, in fact, is so much the plumber's 
metal that the name of his craft comes from the Latin word 
for lead "plumbum." 

In the Middle Ages many of the roofs of the great cathedrals 
and castles were covered with sheet lead, and the glass in the 
windows was held in thin leaden strips. Drains and gutters, 
downspouts, tanks and cisterns were made of lead, and the 
plumber in his pride made of them things of great beauty, 
decorated with ornaments and scrolls. 


Lead, curiously enough, has been used as a weapon in quite 
different ways in different times. It was the ancient practice to 
heat great kettles of lead until it was molten and pour it over 
castle walls upon the heads of climbing attackers. After the 
invention of gunpowder lead served for several centuries for 
the bullets used in rifles and small arms. The early pioneer 
made his own bullets in a small bullet mould and carried them 
in a pouch along with his powder horn. 

We use lead in most of 
these ways to-day, but per- 
haps more important than 
any of these to us is its 
use in making glass and 
especially in making paint. 

Just as thin sheets of 
lead protected the roofs of 
ancient buildings, so far 
thinner sheets of lead in 
the form of paint protect 
our wooden buildings from 
rot and our steel and iron 
structures from rust. It is 
really surprising how thin 
a coat of lead is needed to 
protect wood or steel 
three coats, each a little 
more than one hundredth of 
an inch thick, will preserve 

wood for several years, while an even less thick layer protects 
the steel members of skyscrapers. 

When you go down into the hold of a great liner, ploughing 
its way through the sea, you can lay your hand against the 
inside of the hull and feel the movement of the water on the 
outer side. When you see how thin are the plates that form 
this hull you get some sense of the great strength and tough- 
ness of the steel from which they are made. Yet for all its 



strength a ship of steel would make but few voyages were it 
not for the skin of lead that keeps this steel from rust. 

Cobalt was also known, and it was used for making colours, 
but like mercury it was greatly feared. Even as late as the 
Middle Ages it was considered an evil metal, and its name 
means "black devil." When King Solomon, wishing to repay 
the King of Tyre for his help, offered the Phoenician king some 
gold and silver mines, Hiram, after inspecting them, declined 
the gift, because he had found these mines also contained 
cobalt ore, and he was afraid of the danger to his workmen. 


Nickel was known in Greece and India, but it was probably 
quite rare. It really did not come into general use until the 
sixteenth century, in Germany, where it got its name of nickel, 
which means "old nick/' so called because it was so difficult 
to work. 

Zinc, a metal which we use to-day in a hundred ways, was 
not known in its free state in the ancient world. It was not, 
indeed, until almost modern times that pure zinc was first made 
in Germany. But though the ancients had no pure free sine 
they used the ore of zinc even when they could not separate 
the metal from its ore. Zinc and copper ores when smelted 
together form the alloy brass, and brass was used by the Greeks 
and Romans and perhaps by the more ancient Sumerians. I 



doubt, however, if it was at all common certainly not as 
common as you may be led to think from the number of times 
brass and brazen things are mentioned in the tales of Homer 
or in the Bible. What is really meant is bronze, an altogether 
different metal. Bronze was the common metal of the ancient 
world, while brass was very rare. 

We use zinc in making brass to-day, but perhaps even more 
important to us is the use of zinc to protect steel and iron. 
There are several ways in which this is done. It can be applied 
to metal as lead is in the form of paint or it can be made to 


cover metal with a thin protecting coat. The oldest method for 
doing this is to heat the iron and then dip it in a bath of liquid 
zinc. This causes a thin coat of zinc to adhere to the iron, and 
since zinc does not rust this coating will protect the iron until 
the zinc skin is worn away or broken. This method goes back 
to the early Gaulish smiths who first learned how to coat one 
metal with another; and while I doubt if they ever actually used 
zinc in this way, they did so use copper, tin, bronze and silver. 
Another method of covering iron with zinc is to put the iron 
into a bath of zinc salt solution and then pass an electric current 
through a block of pure zinc into the salt solution and then out 
of the solution again through the iron article which is to be 
plated. As the current flows along this path it takes pure zinc 
with it off the zinc block, drops this into the solution, picks up 



another zinc load from the solution, and leaves this stuck to 
the iron as it passes on out of the solution. Although these are 
quite different processes, we call the zinc-coated iron produced 
by either of them "galvanized iron." 

There are two other ways in which zinc may be used to cover 
iron. One of these, called Sherardization, consists in coating the 
iron with a powder of zinc when the metal is at a temperature 
a little under what would be needed to melt it. This method 
gives a very even and thin coat and is used for small delicate 
articles or articles on which very perfect work is required. 

A crude method of apply- 
ing zinc to iron, called 
"Schoop," consists in 
spraying the iron with 
molten zinc. 

You will notice on any 
galvanized iron the delicate 
and frost-like patterns 
formed in the zinc. That 
is almost exactly what they 
are, for, just as water turns 
to crystals of ice on the 
window pane, so zinc 
sets in crystals on sheets of iron. 

Zinc, lead, copper, tin, mercury, iron, nickel, cobalt, anti- 
mony, gold and silver these were the metals known and used 
in the ancient world. At least three of them, copper, tin and 
iron, were of the greatest importance to the toolmaker, while 
gold and silver, even in ancient times, had already come to 
represent the wealth of the world. Yet for all the need and 
usefulness of these metals very little was actually known about 
any of them. 

This fact is the more strange since the Sumerians, the 
Egyptians and the Greeks were all superb metalworkers. 
Their skill with metals and their knowledge of them, however, 
was limited to the practical side of metalwork. These ancient 




craftsmen knew how to work iron on the anvil under a hammer; 
they could make and cast bronze as well as we can to-day. 
They were the masters of every step in the metalworker's art 
from smelting the crude ores to finishing the finest tools and 
weapons, but they knew very little about why each step was 

It is the job of the 
scientist rather than the 
craftsman to know the 
"why" of things. But the 
scientists of the ancient 
world, at least so far as 
the records show, knew 
very little about metals. 
Aristotle, who was one of 
the great scientists of Greece, 
knew so little about iron 
that he wrote, "while iron 
is hard and has great 
strength yet there are mice 
in Cyprus able to gnaw 
through it." He also des- 
cribed the making of steel, 

but his description is not at SURGEON > S TOOLS FROM POMPEII. 
all clear; it has been the 
source of a great deal of 
argument as to just what 
he meant. Daimachus, a 

fellow Greek, on the other hand, stated that there were 
different kinds of steel and that each kind should be used for 
particular tools and weapons which is quite true. Pliny, the 
Roman, was a very intelligent man and a keen observer, yet 
he thought that iron must be tempered with the water from 
particular springs and that "human blood revenges itself upon 
iron: for the metal once touched by blood will easily rust." 

All the metals seem to have been treated with a good deal 



of superstition and mystery, especially iron. And no one in 
Greek or Roman times seems to have studied the metals to 
find out what they really were and why they acted as they did. 

The first steps towards 
the real study of metals 
seem to have been taken 
by the alchemists of the 
mediaeval age. The al- 
chemists were curious 
people; we know very few 
of them by name and but 
little of what they did. 
Some say there were al- 
chemists in ancient Egypt, 
and others say the art 
came into Europe with 
the Moors. Whatever the 
case, we know that dur- 
ing the twelfth and 
thirteenth centuries a 
good many alchemists 

would the numbers on a clock face then: lived and worked in Eng- 
12 o'clock is the symbol for gold; the land, France and Ger- 
moon at i o'clock stands for silver; the 
circle and arrow (thunderbolt) repre- 
sents iron; 3 o'clock is copper; 4 o'clock 
is sulphur; 5 o'clock is tin; 6.0 was 
reserved for zinc but the symbol has 
been lost; 7.0 is carbon; 8.0 is lead; 
9.0 is mercury, 10.0 is arsenic and ii.o 

is antimony. 

In the middle circle are the signs which 
represented Fire (bottom); Water (top); 
Earth (right); Air (left) 


The alchemists in the fourteenth and 
fifteenth centuries used symbols to 
indicate the different metals. The 
circle enclosing twelve smaller circles 
was the sign of an alchemist's labora- 
tory. If you read these symbols as you 


The alchemists sur- 
rounded themselves with 
all sorts of mysteries. 
They usually worked alone 
and were said to practise 
magic and the black arts. 
They pretended to have 

dealings with the devil 
and other evil spirits, and they made all kinds of weird 
experiments. Chiefly they sought two things the elixir of 
life to gain immortality, and how to change base metal into 



For all their pretence and mummery they did some very 
valuable work. They appear to have been the first to under- 
stand what mercury is and to have smelted pure zinc and nickel. 
A few years ago it was common among scientists to make fun 
of the alchemists, but not all did. Sir Hans Sloane who sug- 
gested the British Museum believed base metal could be 
changed into gold, and to-day we now 
the alchemists were the forefathers of 




was one of them, Roger Bacon, who had a great deal to do 
with the coming of the modern world. 

Bacon lived in England sometime in the thirteenth century. 
He fought bitterly against the narrow superstitious world in 
which he lived. In Bacon's day men had come to believe that 
all that was ever to be learned had already been discovered and 
that the whole of knowledge was contained in the books of 
Aristotle. Bacon cried outthat one had only to look at the world 
around him to see that there was much that Aristotle had not 
known. He believed that if men would only experiment, try 


new ideas, find out for themselves, then there would rise a 
world "in which ships would be moved over the rivers and 
seas by machines; that waggons and carriages would run 
without horses; that flying machines would be made wherein 
a man might sit and by turning a device beat the air with 
artificial wings." So far ahead of his times was Bacon that he 
was reviled and imprisoned and made to deny what he really 
believed. But the seed sown by this strange, far-seeing man 
fell on fertile ground it started the modern world. 

Scientists to-day say that the world is made up of ninety 
simple elements and that of these seventy-one are metals. Some 
of these are so rare they have not yet been found on our earth, 
and a few are so difficult to separate from their ores that they 
have not yet become useful to us. But such has been the 
progress of science since the mediaeval world that where they 
knew but a few metals we know nearly fourscore; and what 
is more, we know a great deal about them: not only what they 
are but how to combine them into hundreds of alloys and 
combinations that serve us throughout the modern world. 

Some alloys were known in the ancient world bronze, 
brass, pewter, solder and electrum, for example. They knew, 
too, that iron and carbon combined to make steel, but it is 
very doubtful if they knew what actually happened when the 
metals were mixed. 

An alloy is a mixture of two or more metals to form a single 
substance. This mixing is done in a number of ways, but it is 
usually accomplished by melting the metals together. Bronze, 
for example, is a mixture of copper and tin. Sometimes a little 
lead is added to give a dark colour and to make the alloy flow 
easily. Phosphorus added to bronze increases its hardness. 
Silver is sometimes added to bronze, particularly when casting 
bells, as it is believed to ensure a clear, mellow tone. Antimony, 
when added to bronze, forms the alloy called Babbitt metal 
which is much used for bearings. 

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, while pewter is made 
from tin and antimony. Both brass and pewter were known 


in the ancient world but they were then quite rare. Brass is 
now one of our most useful metals, especially for pipe and 
fittings. Very beautiful brass castings of extraordinary thinness 
are made by the Javanese Islanders to-day exactly as they have 
made them for centuries. 

Pewter is not used to-day as much as it was formerly. At one 
time a great deal of the tableware, particularly in England, was 
made of pewter. It is a white metal, fairly hard, that does not 
tarnish easily. Pewter may be cast in moulds or spun on a 
wheel. In spinning, a disk of metal is fastened to a wheel and 
then whirled rapidly while a tool is pressed against the metal 
to turn and bend it into simple round shapes such as bowls and 
plates, somewhat as you form a pot from clay on a potter's 
wheel. Brass, bronze and silver are also spun on wheels. 

One common alloy of the ancient world is rarely made 
to-day. It was electrum, a mixture of gold and silver much 
used for ornaments and statues. 

It would be impossible here to tell you of all the alloys that 
are made to-day. Probably the most important to us are the 
alloys of steel. Iron in its pure state is quite soft but when 
combined with a certain amount of carbon it becomes very 
hard and tough and is then called steel. Steel is alloyed with a 
great number of metals to produce special qualities. Chromium 
and copper steels, for example, resist rust as does Monel metal 
which contains steel, copper and nickel. Other alloys of steel 
are made by adding silicon molybdenum, vanadium, or any 
one of a number of other metals or compounds. In this way 
the modern metalworker can produce exactly the kind of steel 
he needs for any particular use steel for tools so hard it will 
cut ordinary carbon steel like cheese steel so tough that it 
may be used as armour-plate steel so elastic that a thin sliver 
of it will serve for a lifetime on the mainspring of your watch. 

All this is a far cry from the crude beginnings of metalwork, 
yet all of it has been accomplished in but a few thousand years. 
Let us look back now at the beginning of the metalworker's 
craft to see how this was done. 

Copper and Bronze Tools 

THE first metal to be sought after gold was copper, but 
copper, unlike gold, is rarely found free in nature. 
Certainly it was not so found in that part of the world where 
it first was put to use. There, the ore must be smelted that is, 
pure metal must be separated by heat from the ore in which it 
is found. 

The melting of a pure raw metal was already known, for 
gold had been melted from the earliest mining days. But while 
the heat that is needed to melt copper is almost exactly the same 
as that for gold, it was one thing to heat a little clay cup of 
gold dust to 2000 F., and quite another to raise that tempera- 
ture and especially to keep it up long enough to drive off the 
impurities found in the ancient copper ores. That called for 
skill and the knowledge of fuels, fires and furnaces. It brought 
into the world the craft of the ore smelter. 

We are not entirely sure where the use of copper began. 
Some think it was in Egypt, and others say it was among the 
Sumerians, in the Mesopotamian Valley. But wherever it 
started, we know that in both these places tools were made at 
a very early time by casting molten copper in moulds. The first 
copper tools were crudely made by beating the metal into 
shape, but almost at once the art of founding was discovered. 
This consists in melting a metal to a liquid state and then 
pouring it into a mould made to form the shape desired. 

The first metal tools were chisels, and the moulds for them 
were shaped of clay mixed with ashes, or cut into stone. For 
such simple tools there need only be an open pattern cut in the 
surface of a smooth, flat stone or moulded in a block of clay. 
The metal could be poured into these much as you would pour 
batter into a muffin tin. 

The cutting edge on such a tool would have to be made 
afterwards by grinding with hornblende, or by working the 



metal cold under the ham- 
mer. The first crude chisels 
were followed by larger 
and flatter ones, and the 
blade at the cutting edge 
was spread out fanwise, to 
give it more bite. Then 
these wide-bladed chisels 
were made to serve as adze 
and axe-blades by lashing 
them to handles. Not only 
were such tools made by 
open-mould casting, but so 
were knives, sickles, arrow- 
heads, saws and spear 

But at best the edges of 
these copper tools, whether 
you formed them by grind- 
ing or hammering, were not very sharp or hard. Any tales 
you may have heard of "an ancient lost art of hardening 
copper until it is like steel" are nonsense. Copper can be 
hardened a little by leaving in it slight impurities such as 
bismuth or arsenic, or it may be made tougher by repeated 
hammering, when hot, if this is followed by very slow cooling. 
But in neither way can it be made really hard, certainly 
nothing like bronze or iron. And should you try to temper 
copper, as iron is tempered, by plunging it when hot into a 
cold bath, you will actually soften it instead of making it 

As copper did not make very satisfactory tools, stone tools 
and weapons continued to be used for many centuries after the 
beginning of the use of metals. In some parts of the world they 
were still in use almost up to modern times. But you may be 
quite sure that once the toolmaker had started to use metal he 
was not going to turn back. Instead, he set about finding 




better methods and better metals with which to work. And 
this he did in a surprisingly short time. 

The new metal was bronze, which is an alloy, a mixture of 
copper and tin. The discovery of bronze was one of the most 
extraordinary jumps in history, for it meant the mixing together 
of two metals, both of them soft, to make a third metal that is 
quite hard. What is more, the mixture had to be fairly exact, 
about one part tin to nine parts copper. 


This might have happened first through the accidental smelt- 
ing of a copper ore that contained a little tin. But, although 
such ores do exist in the world, they are not found near where 
bronze was first made. 

You might think that the first bronze was no accident at all 
but made deliberately by mixing pure copper and pure tin. Tin 
is found free in nature, in stream beds, much the same as is 
gold. But there is no record of pure raw tin being found in 
any country near where bronze was invented. 


But in northern Persia there are places where both copper 
and tin ores are found in the same neighbourhood, separate, 
but lying close enough together to have been mixed by acci- 
dent. Persia is not far from the country of the Sumerians, in 


the Mesopotamian Valley, who seem to have been the first 
users of bronze. 

Whatever the beginning, these early bronze workers soon 
knew ail that was to be known about bronze. They used the 
same mixture that we use to-day, and even added other metals 
to the alloy as we do, lead and silver, for example. Bronze was 




so much better a metal for toolmaking than copper that it re- 
placed copper almost at once so quickly, in fact, that we do 
not speak of a copper age at all, as we do of the ages of stone, 
bronze and iron tools. 

Even in the earlier copper-using days, the toolsmiths had 
improved their ways of casting, for they quite soon discarded 
open moulds and began to make their moulds in two parts, 


cutting an impression of half the tool into each of two stones 
which when lashed together served to form the complete tool. 
This saved quite a bit of work in grinding and hammering, 
but it had one disadvantage it would only form a solid cast- 
ing. It did not leave any holes in the butt of an adze blade by 
which it could be lashed to a handle, nor did it leave sockets 
for the hafting of chisels and axe heads. Such holes and sockets 
had to be cut after the tool was cast a long, hard job. 

The Sumerians seem to have been the first to solve this prob- 
lem by making cores of ashes and clay. These cores could be 
set in the mould where you wanted a hole; then, when the 



metal was poured, it would fill the mould except that part 
blocked out by the core. When the metal had cooled, the core 
could be tapped out, leaving the tool ready for hafting. In their 
core casting the Egyptians made it a practice to wire their cores 
in place, and this they did so skilfully that the cores in some 
Egyptian castings were moved less than one one-hundredth 
of an inch when the hot heavy metal rushed into the mould. 

In almost no time these 
early founders had become 
amazingly clever with their 
double moulds and cores, 
but even yet they were not 
satisfied. They went on to 
discover "lost-wax" casting, 
a method which we com- 
monly use to-day. This was 
done by making a wax 
model of the tool to be cast. 
The model was then covered 
with layer after layer of 
BRONZE AGE SHIELD FROM clay mixed with ashes until 
ENGLAND a mould had been formed 

around it. An entrance chan- 
nel was left for the metal and vents were provided for the outflow 
of wax and gases. As the metal was poured in, the wax would 
melt almost at once, being replaced by the metal in the mould. 
The process is called "lost-wax casting" because very little 
wax is recovered, most of it being lost in gas and smoke. This 
method of casting meant that the founder must make a new 
model for each tool he cast, and for this reason stone and clay 
double moulds continued to be used for all the simpler tools. 
But where the work required great delicacy or had irregular 
shape, especially if there was any undercutting, then the lost- 
wax method was by far the best. Clay cores could be used to 
form holes in wax casting just as they were used in the double 


Just how extraordinarily able these ancient founders became 
you may believe when I tell you that quite large Egyptian cast- 
ings have been found in which the metal is only one-fiftieth of 
an inch thick. When you work so close you must have your 
metal at exactly the right temperature when you pour, and 
your moulds and cores must be warm so that the whole mould 
will be filled, almost in- 
stantly. Otherwise you will 
be left with a patch to make 
or a warped, mis-shapen 

Almost immediately after 
bronze making began in 
Sumeria, we find bronze in 
use in Egypt, and from these 
two centres the craft spread 
outward in two directions 
around the world, just as 
gold seeking had done 
earlier; in fact, it followed 
the same path. Eastward we 
find bronze coming into use 
in India, China, Korea and 
Japan. Westward the bronze 

founder's art appears in Asia Minor, Cyprus, Crete, Greece, 
Italy, Spain and France. In France it passes up the river 
Rhone and on towards the north to Denmark and Scandi- 
navia. About the same time bronze making began in the 
British Isles, especially in Ireland, where some of the most 
beautiful of all ancient tools were made. 

The path to central Europe passed up the Danube River 
valley, leaving behind two great bronze-making centres one 
in Hungary and the other among the lake dwellers in Switzer- 
land. From these centres it seems to have spread out fanwise 
through Germany and into Russia. 

All this must have brought about an immense amount of 





trade, and we find places where these ancient bronze founders 
made and stored their tools all over Europe. This traffic, too, I 
think, had a good deal to do with the beginnings of many 
towns that in time were to grow into the great cities of Europe. 

Certainly it broke paths 
through the ancient forests 
and over wild mountain 
country which came to be 
roads, and, finally, under 
the Romans, were made 
into the great highways 
that bound the whole of the 
European world together. 
But the sea traffic that 
grew up in this age of 
bronze tools is perhaps even 

more interesting. It came into being because tin, which 
is necessary in the making of bronze, was not to be 
found either in Mesopotamia or Egypt, the two oldest bronzc- 
using countries. The 
amount of tin that might 
have come from Persia was 
never enough to supply the 
demand, so tin had to be 
sought outside the ancient 
Eastern world, and the 
people who "sought it were 
the Phoenicians. Their 
country lay at the eastern- 
most end of the Mediter- 
ranean, where they had built 

two great cities, Tyre and Sidon. In time they set up many 
colonies Carthage in Africa, Cadiz in Spain, Marseille in 
France and with these connections they became, and re- 
mained for over a thousand years, one of the greatest nations 
of traders and sailors that ever existed. Just how able they 





were you may believe when I tell you that twenty-one hundred 
years before Vasco da Gama sailed around the continent of 
Africa, these ancient Phoenicians took a fleet of triremes from 
the Gulf of Arabia and circled the African Continent, returning 
home through the Straits of Gibraltar. Triremes, mind you 
vessels that were rowed with three banks of oars. It took them 
three years to complete the trip and they had to stop off on 
the way to plant, raise and harvest grain to keep themselves 


supplied with food for the voyage. Nor was this the only time 
this journey was made by Phoenicians. Hano of Carthage some- 
time later made it the other way around, going from Cadiz 
to Arabia. 

The great sources of tin in the ancient world were Spain, in 
the west, and Malabar, across the Indian Ocean, both at 
tremendous distances for that time. But the Phoenicians made 
these trips regularly, and they even went to the British Isles to 
secure tin from the natives of Cornwall and Ireland. There is 
a story handed down to us from Roman times that explains 
why the Phoenicians were so successful, for it shows that they 
not only had courage as sailors, but that they dealt decently 


with the people with whom they traded. "They were wont to 
visit a people who lived beyond the Pillars of Hercules" we 
think that Cornwall is the place meant by this "and when they 
had come to the shore they would set out the goods that they 
had brought for trade, and after building a great fire they 
would return to their boats again. The natives, seeing the 
smoke, would come out of the forests bringing with them 
gold, tin, hides or other goods, and would place, beside the 


Phoenician wares, as much of their own as they thought the 
cargo worth. This done they would retire again into the forest. 
The Phoenicians, then, would come ashore and, if satisfied, take 
the Cornish goods, leaving what they had first set out in trade. 
But if they were not satisfied they would withdraw and await 
a new offer." So the bargain, without words, would go on 
until both sides were pleased with what they got. 

There is another Roman account of the tin trade that gives 


an idea of the distances travelled and the difficulties overcome 
to bring it to the ancient Eastern world. 

"The native people dig the tin and having melted it they 
carry it to a neighbouring island which they can only reach by 
going over the shoals when the tide is out. Then the foreign 
merchants, having bought the tin in the islands of Ictis, carry 
it by boat to Gaul where they put it on horses, after which it 
takes thirty days to bring the tin to the mouth of the Rhone." 
Here it was again put on shipboard and carried to Rome or 
to the eastern countries that needed it. 


But besides the beginning of trade by road and ship, the age 
of bronze saw tremendous strides made in many other direc- 
tions the invention of writing, the beginning of law and 
government, the growth of cities and city-states. In this period 
almost every type of common carpenter's tool was made, with 
the exception of only the bubble level, the brace and bit and 
the plane. Many other things beside tools came to be made of 
bronze weapons, armour, ship prows, chariots and even 

The Bronze Age saw, too, the building of the pyramids of 
Egypt, for which millions of tons of stone were cut in the 
quarries of the upper Nile, shipped hundreds of miles down the 
river to the building site, shaped and set in place every bit of 


that work was done with tools of stone and bronze. A task, 
Diodorus tells us, that required the labour of three hundred 
and sixty thousand people for more than twenty years in the 
raising of but one of these structures. 


The same age saw the building of Babylon, a city so vast that 
the later Greeks said it seemed more like a nation than a city. 
The wall around it, built of sand-clay bricks set in bitumen, 
was forty miles long, one hundred and fifty feet high and wide 


enough at the top for two chariots to drive abreast. Such a wall 

would require more than four hundred million tons of brick. 

While it is impossible to list here all the other inventions and 

changes that came into the world during the Bronze Age, we 


shall see all those that are concerned with metalwork as we 
go on. 

But of all that happened in this extraordinary age, perhaps 
the most surprising thing is that there ever should have been a 
Bronze Age at all. For, from a metalworker's point of view, 
iron should have come into use before bronze, and, had that 
occurred, bronze would never have become, as it did, the 
most important metal in the world for two thousand years. 

VII. The Coming of Iron Tools 

OF all the heavvmetals in the world iron is by far the 
commonest/ The very core of the earth is said to be 
made up of iron, and it seems to be present even in the outer 
universe, since every meteor that has been found is largely 
composed of iron. Not only is iron common, but it is much 
more easily prepared for working than are either copper or 
bronze. Before you can cast copper the ore must be smelted, 
whereas iron can be worked almost directly from the ore, 
without complete smelting, and at considerably less heat than 
is required for melting copper. 

Let us set down side by side what we know of the first two 
great tool metals iron and bronze. To make bronze, long and 
dangerous voyages had to be taken in search of tin, while iron 
ore was fairly plentiful everywhere. To cast bronze, moulds, 
cores and lost-wax models were required, and these took a 
great deal of skill in the making and handling. On the other 
hand, iron ore could be worked into a tool or a weapon by a 
method so simple and direct that even quite primitive and 
savage tribes have known how to do it. All this certainly makes 
one think that iron, rather than bronze, should have been the 
first important metal for making tools and weapons. 

It has been said that iron actually was used much earlier than 
we now believe, and that the reason we do not find any traces 
of it in the ruins of Bronze Age temples, or buried in the dust 
of the ancient cities, is that it has rusted away, while the bronze 
tools have remained. It is quite true that iron, which is not 
protected, will rust away long before bronze begins to show 
any signs of great age. But although iron itself is not very 
permanent, iron rust is practically indestructible, and we do 
not find iron rust in the older Bronze Age towns and buildings. 

We know definitely, too, of at least one great and highly 
developed people who were living in a copper-using age only a 



few centuries ago. These were the Mayas, of Mexico, who built 
marvellous pyramids and temples of the hardest kinds of stone, 
which they carved with beautiful and intricate designs, using 
only copper, stone and a few bronze tools. They were an 
amazing people; their masonry work was so accurate that you 
cannot slip a knife-blade between some of their joints, and they 
were such extraordinary builders that they raised stones weigh- 
ing from ten to fifteen tons into place. They were a wise people, 
too, for their calendar was more accurate than that used by the 
Spaniards who conquered them. They were excellent miners, 
particularly for gold and silver, and some of their deep mines 
are still being worked to-day. Yet, though there were whole 
mountains of fine iron ore in Mexico, they made no use of it 
whatsoever until after the coming of the Spaniards under 

The oldest written record of iron is in a Chinese book called 
the Shoo King, written about four thousand years ago. In it were 
listed all the things that were paid in tribute to the Emperor 
Yu, and among them is an item of iron. But as iron is not men- 
tioned again in any other Chinese record until nearly a thou- 
sand years later, we do not believe that these ancient Chinese 
knew very much about it, although later Chinese iron-workers 
came to be marvellous craftsmen. 

In India we know that along the Ganges River there lived an 
ancient Hindu people who made a kind of steel. This steel was 
called "wootz," and it came to be greatly prized because of its 
strength and hardness. It was made from an ore that was mined 
from the surface of the ground. The smelter would take a little 
of this ore, about a pound or so, and after crushing it, put it 
into a small clay pot together with some finely chopped-up 
wood. He would then cover this over with a few leaves from 
the acacia tree, seal the pot with a lid of clay and then dry the 
sealed pot in the sun. When a number of these little crucibles 
were dry the smelter would build them into arches in groups 
of about twenty-four to a group, forming a small oven in 
which he would start a charcoal fire. This fire was blown up, 


slowly at first and then violently, with double bellows made of 
buffalo hide. When the pots had cooled they were broken open 
and in each of them would be found a little cake of metal. 
These cakes were reheated and then- worked into sword blades 
or tools on an anvil under a hammer. So excellent was this steel 
that for many centuries it was considered the finest in the 
world. It is thought, in fact, that the famous Damascus blades 
of Roman times were made from Hindu wootz. 

But even in far earlier times than these, we find bits of iron 
being used in Egypt and Mesopotamia for rings, ornaments 
and the like. One such bit, now in the British Museum, came 
from one of the pyramids and is thought to be over five thou- 
sand years old. These earliest pieces of iron, however, were not 
at all common. They are usually found together with gold and 
silver ornaments. From this we think that, at least in the 
beginning, iron was looked upon as a precious metal. 

There are all sorts of legends about the discovery of iron. 
Most of them tell of some great fire that burned in a forest on 
a mountainside creating a heat so intense that the ore in the 
earth melted and ran out in streams. Some tales place the 
mountain in Crete, others say it was in Spain, and still others 
that it was somewhere in the Caucasus. The most interesting of 
these legends tells of a shepherd folk living in Spain who set 
fire to a forest in order to drive wild animals into the open 
and to clear the ground for grazing land for their cattle. The 
fire, according to the legend, became so hot that it melted the 
iron out of the earth. Whether we believe that iron was dis- 
covered in this way or not, this tale is important to us in itself, 
for it gives one more brief look into the life of Stone Age man 
showing a terrible and cruel method of hunting and a 
quick if destructive way of clearing by burning over forest 
land. Curiously enough the records of American Colonial days 
show that this was done there, for a Virginia law of Revolu- 
tionary times prohibits the "driving of game into the open 
by burning its forest cover." 

If you take all these old legends and make dots on a map to 


mark the places of which they tell, and then on the same map 
spot in the places where the earliest iron implements have been 
found, you will notice your dots getting more and more 
numerous in the neighbourhood of the Caucasus Mountains 
and along the south shore of the Black Sea. We do not yet 
know much about the ancient peoples of the Caucasus, but we 
do know that a people who dwelt along the shore of the Black 
Sea were famous for the iron they made. Their iron was called 
"barzel," and it was so fine that Alexander got his best weapons 
here when he marched against Persia. It is quite possible that 
it was among these people that iron making began. Wherever 
iron making actually began, we know that by the time of the 
Trojan War, a little over three thousand years ago, iron had 
come into fairly common use for tools. 

Curiously enough, iron does not seem to have been wel- 
comed into a bronze-using world. It was actually looked upon 
as a thing of evil for a very long time. The Greek poet Hesiod 
thought iron was evil and Herodotus said: "Iron came into the 
world to the hurt of man." As late as Roman times we hear the 
poet, Ovid, cry out: "The earth hid the metals and then iron 
came forth destructive and terrible." And Mahomet warned in 
the Koran: "Dire evil resideth in it, as well as advantage to 

A great many superstitions grew up about iron. The Romans 
believed, for instance, that if you drew three circles in the air 
around anyone and three on the ground with a point of iron, 
that person could not be bewitched. They thought, too, that 
a nail taken from a grave and driven into a door-sill would 
keep off nightmare. But though they had some sort of fear of 
iron, they also used it in important ways their wedding-rings 
were made of iron, and they used it in a great many medicines. 
They thought that you could cure diseases of the chest by 
pricking the skin with an iron point which had wounded a 
man. The Chinese still have the same belief, except that they 
do not require that the point come from a wound. But if most 
of these cures were ridiculous, some were quite intelligent 


you can stop the flow of blood with iron filings, as they 
believed, although I do not recommend that you try it. We 
find the same kind of superstitions among the Greeks and the 
Egyptians, but we do not have to go back, even to Roman days, 
for such curious beliefs. Our own superstition about horse- 
shoes bringing either good luck or bad comes from the fact 
that horseshoes are made of iron. 


However superstitious people may have been about iron, it 
was so much better a metal for making tools than bronze that, 
once its use had started, it soon drove out bronze tools alto- 
gether. The same thing, however, did not happen in the case 
of weapons, as we shall see, for bronze continued in use for 
arms and armour almost up to modern times. 

We said a moment ago that the simplest way of working iron 
into tools did not require that the ore should be completely 
smelted. Here is the description of crude iron smelting that 


does not come down to us from ancient times but is taken from 
the account of what an explorer saw in Africa only a few 
years ago. Yet the process is probably very much like that 
used in the early iron-working days. 

The native iron smelters, says Mungo Park, had furnaces 
about nine feet high and three feet in diameter, made of willow 
branches woven together and plastered over with clay. At the 
base there were seven draft inlets which were lined with clay 
and turf. At the top there was a vent. A layer of dry faggots was 
placed on the bottom of the furnace, and, on top of this, 


alternate layers of charcoal and egg-sized pieces of ore, until 
the interior was filled. The fire was then lit and blown upon 
with bellows, slowly at first and then more violently, but it 
was not until some hours had passed that flame began to pour 
from the vent at the top of the furnace. Then the whole mass 
burned intensely through the night until about dawn. When 
the fire began to pale the workmen would open wide all the 
inlets and let the air rush in to cool the furnace. This done, 
the furnace was broken open and all the debris removed, 
leaving a large lump of metal, encrusted with charcoal. Though 
much of this metal was worthless, the natives would get 
enough go od iron to pay for their labour. They would then 
break this mass into small pieces which would be reheated and 


then worked on an anvil with a hammer. The iron so made 
was fragile at the first working, but good enough for spears 
and knives. For tools, it must be worked a good deal longer. 

Diodorus tells of iron making in Roman times: "In the 
island of Aethalie there is an ore that contains iron which is 
melted in batches to make metal. The workers first cut up a 
great quantity of it, and this they put into the furnace in a 
peculiar manner." (I believe he means in alternate layers with 
charcoal.) "When the heat has melted the ore, what is left is 
broken up into blocks and sold to the merchants who travel 
from village to village selling it again to the blacksmiths. 
Those who buy this iron make it into all sorts of figures, birds, 
beasts and the like, and also into tools." 

The most famous of all the ancient furnaces were those used 
in Spain, which were called Catalan furnaces after the country 
where they were invented. The bottom of one of these fur- 
naces was usually a large flat stone, slightly cupped. This stone 
was set in a pit dug into a hillside in such a way that the hill 
itself would form the back wall of the furnace, while the front 
was built up of stones. The inside was plastered with clay, 
and a little above the bottom there was an opening left for 
the tuyere, as the nozzle of the bellows is called. The oldest of 
these furnaces was fairly low little more than three feet high. 
Later, in order to get more draught, the Catalans made a flue 
that ran off near the top of the furnace and extended along the 
ground for a little way up the hill. They covered these later 
furnaces with a capstone that could be removed when they 
wanted to charge the furnace with ore and charcoal. Crude as 
these Catalan furnaces were, they were used for many cen- 
turies, and the type in time became the standard furnace from 
England to Japan. The Chinese and Japanese practice was to 
throw burning charcoal into their furnaces until these were 
almost full; then they dumped the ore on top. They were 'such 
excellent smelters that they have been known to make in this 
way as much as six and eight tons of metal at a single heat. 

You will remember that pure iron is very rarely found in 



nature. Iron usually comes combined with either oxygen or 
carbon, and with small amounts of other impurities such as 
arsenic or sulphur. What happened in these old furnaces was 
this: the ore, under the heat of the burning charcoal, would be 
freed of oxygen, sulphur and arsenic, and, in the case of those 
ores where carbon was present, a good deal of this, too, would 
be burnt out. The metal would partially melt and form into a 
stringy, spongy mass called a bloom. The bloom would be 
taken from the furnace, broken into pieces small enough to 
handle, reheated, and worked on the anvil under a hammer. 


The object of this heating and beating was to drive out nearly, 
but not quite, all of the carbon, and to knit the fibres of the 
iron into strong compact metal. Iron so made is called wrought 
iron. It was the earliest type of iron used, and it was almost the 
only kind used until nearly modern times. 

There are three kinds of iron: wrought iron, cast iron and 
steel, and all of these are actually combinations of iron and 
carbon. Although the amount of carbon is never very large in 
any of them, it makes a great deal of difference in the kind of 
metal produced. Wrought iron, which has the least carbon of 
all, is strong, tough and elastic, but not very hard. Cast iron, 
which has the most carbon, is strong and may be extremely 


hard in fact, fine, grey cast iron will scratch a diamond. But 
most cast irons unless especially treated are likely to be brittle 
that is, they will shatter under sharp heavy blows. Steel has 
less carbon than cast iron and usually more than wrought iron. 
It is hard, strong, tough and somewhat elastic; but, more 
than this, steel can be combined with a great variety of other 
metals to form alloys each of which is the perfect metal for its 
particular use. 

It would be an error to say that carbon alone brings about 
the differences among steel, cast iron and wrought iron. 
The amount of carbon that is combined with the iron is an 
important cause of these differences, but it is not the only 
cause, for, in part, these differences come about from the way 
in which the metal itself is made. 

As wrought iron comes from the anvil after reheating and 
beating, it is a strong, tough and elastic metal, but it is not 
very hard. To make it hard enough for a sword blade or a tool 
point, it must be tempered. For a great many years it was 
thought that tempering was not known in the ancient world, 
but it most certainly was and quite generally. We read in 
Homer how, when Ulysses fire-hardened a timber of olive 
wood and drove it into the eye of the sleeping Cyclops, it 
hissed "just as does an axe or an adze when the smith plunges 
it into cold water that it may be tempered, for thence comes 
the great strength of iron." 

Even if no ancient writer had ever mentioned tempering we 
still would know that iron was tempered from the early days of 
its use; for we see iron slowly replace bronze as the metal from 
which tools and weapons were made, and this would never 
have happened without tempering. An untempered wrought- 
iron sword blade would have been useless against a bronze 
shield or helmet. An untempered plough point would have 
bent and dulled in stony soil. 

But while the ancient smiths did know tempering, most of 
them did it crudely and without any real understanding of 
what they did. Pliny, the Roman, thought that the temper in 


a sword blade or a tool depended on the kind of water into 
which it was plunged when hot. He said that the water from 
some springs was so much better for tempering that these 
places became famous among smiths. The kind of water used 
in tempering, as we shall see, has nothing whatever to do with 
the process. 

That iron was so very slow in replacing bronze, particularly 
for weapons, was quite probably due to poor tempering. 
Polybius, a Roman writer, says that when the Gauls invaded 



Italy about two centuries B.C. they were defeated only because 
"their iron swords bent and the edges turned against the 
Roman armour so that after every stroke the Gaulish warrior 
must straighten his sword with his foot against the ground 
before he could strike a second blow." 

Nearly a thousand years later than this we hear of the 
swords of the Vikings that bent in battle. "So then befell a 
great battle, and Steinthor was at the head of his own folk, and 
smote on either hand of him; but the fair-wrought sword bit 
not when as it smote armour, and oft he must straighten it 
under his foot." 

The Norse legends are filled with these tales of good and 


bad swords. It is no wonder that the true and faithful swords 
were given names such as Thured's "Foot-biter" and Arthur's 
"Excalibur." It is not difficult to understand, too, why the 
Germans were slow to use iron for their weapons. But if the 
Germans did not know how to make the best iron in the early 
days, they learned rapidly, and before the end of the Roman 
day they had better arms than the Romans themselves. 

Tempering is not quite as simple as just heating an iron tool 
and then plunging it into cold water. On many tools, for in- 


stance, only the point, or bit face, is tempered. In tempering, 
too, you must be careful not to harden your metal completely 
before you are quite through working on it, because, once 
tempered, it becomes much more difficult to change its form. 
There has always been a good deal of mystery and super- 
stition among blacksmiths about tempering. Mathurin Jousse, 
who was a great ironworker in France about the middle of 
the seventeenth century, says of preparing the tempering bath: 
"The best water for tempering is May dew gathered at dawn 
from upland plants, for such plants have gained vigour from 



their exposure to the icy blasts of the north wind, and steel 
tempered from their dew has great strength because of this." 
Although dew is a very pure form of water, neither the purity 
of water nor where it comes from has anything to do with 
tempering. But after this lapse into age-old superstition the 
grand old craftsman goes on and really tells you how to 
temper steel. "Bring the steel to a cherry red, absolutely evenly 
all over, then plunge it into water where no air can get at 
it and afterwards rub it clean with fine dry sand." 


Jousse then goes on to describe the colours through which 
a heated piece of steel passes as it cools. These colours are 
called the colours of temper. They are quite distinct and 
always occur in the same regular order each colour repre- 
senting a certain temperature and a definite degree of hardness. 

When a piece of steel which has been heated to a bright 
cherry red is suddenly chilled it becomes extremely hard the 
degree of hardness depending on the suddenness of the cooling. 

Extreme hardness in steel, however, is likely to be accom- 
panied by a tendency to brittleness. In light, delicate tools, such 
as razors, knife-blades, surgeons* tools, and the like, the 
quality of hardness is so much to be desired as to offset this 


tendency to brittleness. On the other hand, brittleness in heavy 
tools required for hand work would render them quite useless. 
A good example of this difference is shown in comparing a 
penknife blade with a screwdriver. 

Almost everyone, at one time or another, has made the mis- 
take of trying to turn a screw with a knife-blade only to see 
the point of the blade snapped off short. This is because the 
knife-blade is at once hard and brittle. It is made hard so that 
it may be brought to a sharp edge and retain its keenness for a 




long time. The screwdriver-blade on the other hand turns the 
screw without any trouble at all. It is not nearly so hard as the 
knife-blade but it is not brittle either. You could grind a 
screwdriver-blade to an edge, hone and strop it, but you could 
never make it as sharp as the knife-blade nor would it hold 
its edge for any length of time. It is better then, in making a 
screwdriver, to sacrifice a little of the quality of hardness in 
order to gain the toughness and strength required of the tool. 

The smith uses the colours of temper as warning signals to 
tell him the exact moment at which a tool designed for a 
particular purpose should be plunged into cold oil or water to 
fix the degree of hardness at that point best suited to that tool. 

Here is a list of the colours of temper with the tempera- 
ture at each colour shown in degrees Fahrenheit. There is 



also shown the kind of tool which is usually made at this 

430 Very pale yellow 

440 Bright yellow 

450 Pale straw 

460 Straw yellow 

470 Deep yellow 

480 Dark straw 

490 Yellow brown 

500 Brown 

510 Brown with red spots 

5 20 Brown with purple spots 

5 30 Light purple 

540 Full purple 

550 Dark purple 

560 Light blue 

570 Blue 

600 Dark blue 

630 Blue with green 

Light wood-turning tools 


Milling tools 

Lathe tools 


Iron drill points 

Taps and dies 



Wood chisels 


Twist drills 


Wood saws 

Stone chisels 


Cold chisels 

Just how long ago the smith learned to use the colours of 
temper we do not know. Jousse was the first to describe them, 
but we may be fairly sure that the makers of the Toledo and 
Damascus blades had known them much earlier and they may 
even have been known in the ancient world, but we have no 
record of this. 

Another method of treating metal with heat is called anneal- 
ing. A piece of steel is annealed by heating it to a cherry red 
and then allowing it to cool very slowly, burying it in sand or 
ashes so that it loses its heat gradually and over a long time. 
Steel so treated becomes soft and is quite easy to work. 

As iron came more and more into use in the ancient world 
the smith learned a way by which the work of making blooms 
could be speeded up. This was done by roasting the ore over 
open fires before placing it in the furnace for smelting. This 
got rid of a good deal of the arsenic and sulphur. They also 


learned that they could make larger and better batches if their 
furnaces were higher. So we see the "low furnace" (from three 
to nine feet high) give way to the "middle furnace," which by 
the Middle Ages was from ten to sixteen feet high, and finally, 
in modern times, you may see great towering stacks at our 
mills that rise over a hundred feet above the ground. 

Another improvement that made better iron and made it in 
less time was the use of lime or limestone as a flux. Fluxes had 
been known from very early times, particularly in the smelting 
of gold and silver. Their purpose is to gather to themselves the 
impurities of the ore and to keep the melting metal as free as 
possible of ash. Different kinds of fluxes are used for different 
metals. In the case of iron, dolomite or limestone, when put 
into the furnace with the ore and fuel, will collect a great part 
of the impurities and ash. These are formed into large grey- 
white clinkers known as slag which are taken from the furnace 
as the ore is smelted, leaving a much cleaner and better bloom. 
Lighter than the metal, slag floats upon the molten mass and 
is drawn off after the metal has been removed. For many years 
slag was thought to be quite useless; in fact, it was a great 
nuisance because, as there was no place to get rid of it, there 
grew up great waste heaps of slag around the iron and steel 
mills. But not long ago it was found that slag made an excel- 
lent road surface, and also, when combined with cement, a 
strong lightweight concrete, so these miniature mountains of 
slag are now fast disappearing. 

Just when limestone was first used as a flux we do not know, 
but its use was quite common in Roman times and, in the form 
of limestone, it is always used to-day, especially in making steel. 

Furnaces did not begin to gain height until late in the Middle 
Ages, about Agricola's time, and the reason for this was the 
limited blast power of the bellows. The use of bellows to blow 
up a fire must have been known even in early copper-smelting 
days, as it is quite difficult to raise the heat required to melt cop- 
per without them. Who invented the bellows, we do not know. 
On an ancient Egyptian carving we see a group of metalworkers 



sitting around an open fire on which there is a small crucible. 
Each of the workers has a tube in his mouth with which he is 
blowing up the fire by lung power. Such a method could never 
have been satisfactory, even for melting small amounts of gold 
or bronze, and it wouldn't have done at all for copper or iron. 



We do not know it for a fact, but it is not too hard to believe 
that the Stone Age folk who were clever enough to invent such 
neat little fire-making machines as the pump and the bow drill 
could also have originated a simple form of bellows. For such a 
pair of bellows all that was needed was two paddles, connected 





by a skin bag and having a nozzle at one end, out of which the 
air in the bag could be pushed by suddenly squeezing the pad- 
dles together. It wouldn't have been a very good bellows, be- 
cause the nozzle would have to be drawn back out of the fire 
each time the paddles were opened to suck in a new supply of 
air. That problem was solved by the invention of the valve. A 
valve is a small door that can be opened, in one direction only, 
by pressure. The pressure may come from any source, your 


hand, a gear, or just flowing water or air. In a pair of bellows, 
the valve is a small flap of leather that is fastened on one side 
and is free on the other. One such valve is placed in the nozzle 
and another set in one of the paddles. These work in exactly 
reversed directions, so that one of them opens only when the 
other is closed. The nozzle valve opens when the bellows are 
squeezed together, thus allowing the air to spurt out. When the 
bellows are spread apart again, to draw in a new supply of air, 
the nozzle valve closes and the inlet valve in the paddle face 
opens. Such a bellows will work quite well to blow up a fire, 
even though it does furnish the draught in a series of puffs, with 
a wait between, while the bellows are refilled. If you want to 


get a steady forced draught you need two such bellows, so that 
they can be worked alternately. 

In an ancient Egyptian drawing we see a clever set of double 
bellows. The picture shows two workers, each of whom is 
standing on a pair of sacks that appear to be made of leather. 
With one foot on each sack the workman can throw his weight 
to the right or left foot and so squeeze each sack in turn. In each 
hand he has a string that is connected with one of the sacks. As 


he shifts his weight to his right foot, for instance, to force the 
air out of that sack, he can draw air into the sack under his left 
foot by pulling upward on the string in his left hand. With good 
rhythm he can keep up a steady and strong blast without very 
much effort. 

As heavier and heavier blasts came to be needed to supply the 
larger and higher furnaces, the bellows were built larger and 
larger until it took all the strength of a powerful crew of men to 
work them. Yet even in Roman days these bellows seem to have 
been worked only by hand. This was not because the Romans 
did not know how to harness power; they did that sometimes 
in their grain mills, ore crushers and pumps, using treadmills 
operated by men or animals. They knew water power but rarely 
used it. The Romans did not want labour-saving devices, 


because there were millions of slaves in the Roman state. They 
went to a good deal of trouble to keep these slaves steadily at 
work. For centuries the Romans were not nearly as fearful of 
invading enemies from outside the Empire as they were of the 
hordes of slaves within the state, who might at some time rise 
and overwhelm them. They worked vast numbers of slaves, in 
gangs, at dull and wasting tasks, that these slaves might not 
have either the strength or the heart left to fight for their 

It was useless then for the Romans to build higher furnaces 
as long as they used hand-worked bellows. It was not, indeed, 
until towards the end of the Middle Ages, when water power 
came into common use, that stronger and better bellows were 
made. But when they did come, they brought great changes to 
the ironworker's craft. 

The first forge in which the bellows were worked by water 
power was built early in the fourteenth century near the town of 
Moyeuvre in what was then the Duchy of Burgundy. Other 
mills followed in Germany, France and Spain. Forges were now 
built beside streams where there was a natural fall of water or 
where water could be led to the wheel through flumes. Such a 
wheel might be so made that the water would fall upon the 
paddles from above and so drive the wheel forward or the 
wheel could be so made that the flow of water could be sent 
rushing under the wheel to turn it in reverse. In either case the 
long, heavy, timber axle of the wheel turned as the wheel re- 
volved. This axle was extended into the shop through an open- 
ing in the wall. At its inner end there was set a series of lugs or 
cams so spaced that each cam, in turn, would lift the upper leaf 
of a great bellows and then let this leaf fall as the cam passed on 
with the turning of the wheel. This upper bellows leaf was 
heavily weighted so that when it fell it did so suddenly and with 
great force, thus driving a strong blast from the nozzle. Two 
such bellows set side by side and operated alternately by two 
sets of cams could keep up a strong continuous blast as long as 
the mill-wheel turned. 




With the forced draught that could now be developed iron 
making began to improve rapidly. The Catalan furnace of 
Roman times could make only about one hundred and fifty 
pounds of iron in a day. Metalworkers have estimated that if 
iron had to be made in a Catalan furnace to-day it would cost 
about two hundred and fifty pounds a ton or over ten times the 
cost of finished steel shapes to-day. The German furnaces of the 
Middle Ages could make about one hundred and fifty tons of 
metal in a year. By 1756, in England, Abraham Darby was able 
to make over one thousand tons a year. To-day the average 
American furnace produces 210,000 tons a year. 

The coming of the blast furnace and the growing demand for 
iron caused forges and furnaces to be built everywhere that ore 
and fuel could be found. The older low Catalan furnace could 
only produce iron from fairly rich ore. The high furnace opened 
up ore fields, especially in Germany and France, which before 
were too lean to pay. 

The low furnace had not only required richer ore but it was 
able to free only a part of the iron from the ore. When the fur- 
naces were cleaned and the bloom removed there was always a 
great mass of cinders encrusted with partly smelted iron. This 
waste is called the scoriae, and around all the old forges huge 
piles of scoriae grew up through centuries of iron making. The 
hot blast of the high furnace, however, could not only smelt 
leaner ores, it could even recover the remaining iron in the 
scoriae. These waste piles became veritable mines. It has been 
said that in the Forest of Dean, in England, there was such a 
vast amount of this waste that twenty furnaces were supplied 
with ore for three hundred years from the waste piles of earlier 

Water power brought more to iron making than the power- 
driven bellows and the high furnace, for it also made possible 
the tilt hammer which was to do for wrought iron what the 
high furnace had done for cast iron. The tilt hammer was a huge 
sledge with a head weighing a hundred pounds or more and a 
long handle pivoted in the centre. This sledge was also worked 


by cams on an axle-shaft of a water-wheel. It was so placed in 
the shop that the cams on the wheel-shaft would strike down- 
ward, as they turned, on the butt of the sledge helve, and in 
doing this they would raise and drop the hammer head. Because 
of its weight the head would fall with great force upon the anvil 
set beneath. Sometimes the force of the blow was increased by 
adding a long heavy tinker beam above the hammer. This beam 


would rise and fall with the hammer head, greatly increasing 
the power of the blow. 

Before the invention of the tilt hammer all the heavy work of 
roughing large forgings or the beating out of blooms had to be 
done by hand. This meant that the pieces must be fairly small 
and the work slow. All this was to be changed by the tilt ham- 
mer which could do the work of twenty smiths. 

Agricola says that even in his day, late in the Middle Ages, 
blooms were dragged from the furnace on to the earthen floor 
of the shop and there beaten by the smith and his helpers with 


heavy, long-handled wooden mallets. This got rid of the larger 
pieces of slag that stuck to the bloom and started the knitting of 
the fibres. The bloom was then broken up into smaller pieces 
and the work finished on an anvil. Although such pieces could 
be fairly large, this roughing-in work was slow and hard. The 
tilt hammer came as a great boon to the smith for heavy work, 
but it was probably never used for finishing. 


For that the smith and his helpers stood in a ring around the 
anvil, each helper with a long-handled sledge and the smith 
with a short, heavy hammer. When the iron is ready the smith 
draws it from the fire, white-hot and spitting sparklets like tiny 
meteors, and throws it on the anvil. Not a word is said it 
would be useless, for who could hear orders above the roar of 
the water-wheel and the clatter of the bellows? Besides, there is 
no time for anyone to think everything must be done in swift 
and perfect rhythm, for the work must be finished before the 
metal cools. Holding the iron with tongs in one hand, the smith 


strikes the face of the anvil with his hammer. It is the signal to 
the helpers: "Be ready, follow me." Then he strikes the metal 
and the sledges of the helpers rise and fall in turn so fast it seems 


impossible that one head will clear before the next one strikes. 
In a blur of hammer heads the helpers follow exactly the blows 
of the master smith, striking where he strikes and with just the 
force his own blow commands. It is marvellous teamwork; the 


whole group moves as a single man. The blows weave and 
shift, following the metal as the master turns it from side to 
side, as though drawn to it by a magnet light blows, heavy 
blows. Flat on the anvil, the glowing iron begins to form, then 
swiftly moves out on the anvil horn for the curve and back on 
its side for the edge; twisting and turning under the drumbeat 
of blows the wrought iron takes its final shape just as the last of 
its heat is fading. Then suddenly the master smith drops his 
hammer side-face-up on the anvil and the helpers' sledges halt 
in mid-swing. The job is done. 

How many long and weary hours you worked as a boy, beat- 
ing a piece of lead to learn that perfect timing, that precision, 
aim and rhythmic swing! How many years went into the instant 
feeling for the metal that has become a very part of you, so that 
hands and eyes and nerves and the muscles of your arms now 
act together more swiftly than the mind can think! 

Mow large a forging can a smith and his helpers make? In 
India at Delhi there is a column called the Delhi Laht. It is six- 
teen inches in diameter and stands twenty-two feet out of the 
ground, beneath which it is believed are buried another thirty 
feet. And this whole column is made of wrought iron. It was 
made so long ago that no one now knows just how the work 
was done. We do not think they had tilt hammers at that time. 
Even if they had, such a hammer would have been of little use. 
How were these ancient Indian smiths to handle such a mass of 
metal upon an anvil? If we grant that they may have had slings 
and tackle to raise and swing such a column over an anvil, it is 
very doubtful if they could have developed heat enough to 
forge so great a mass. 

I think the column was forged in place, welded layer by layer 
and, as the column grew, scaffolding could have been used to 
raise the workmen and the forges to the proper height. That 
would take far less heat and need no cranes; but if it was done 
in this way, it was a marvellous piece of workmanship, for in 
the column there is no trace of a joint. 

Another interesting thing about this column is that it shows 


no signs of rusting, although nothing is done to preserve it. 
Iron which has once rusted slightly can be rubbed clean and 
then oiled, and if kept oiled it will last indefinitely. But so far as 


we know, this was never done to the Delhi Laht. There is a 
possible explanation, however. The naked children of Delhi 
for centuries have played about the column, climbing to the top 
and sliding down, and it is quite probable that just enough oil 


gets rubbed into the iron each year from their bodies to keep it 
free from rust. 

Up to modern times the size of a piece of iron to be forged 
was limited, not so much by its weight as by the amount of heat 
that the workmen, who must stand close, could bear on their 
skins. When a large bar, say eight or nine inches in diameter, 
has been brought up to an even forging heat over the whole 
surface of one end, the intensity and amount of heat that is 
given off is terrific. An anchor bar nine inches in diameter was 
once forged by twenty-four hammermen each with an eighteen- 
pound sledge. That is the largest hand- wrought piece of iron 
of which I know. 

It was not until 1839 that James Nasmyth, in England, in- 
vented the steam hammer. This gradually replaced the tilt 
hammer until to-day we have steam hammers which will strike 
two and three hundred blows a minute with a force far greater 
than any that could be developed by the tilt hammer. These 
modern hammers can be so perfectly adjusted that you could 
place your watch on the anvil and crack the crystal without 
stopping the watch hands. 

High furnaces, strong blast bellows and tilt hammers had 
come into being with the coming of water power, and iron 
making leaped ahead. But before the great modern age of steel 
could begin, however, there was one more problem to solve, 
and that was the problem of the fire itself, or rather of the fuels 
with which the fire was fed. 

VIII. Steel 

Y skill with fires and fluxes is made that kind of iron from 
which comes steel." So wrote Agricola four hundred 
years ago. And it is, indeed, new fuels and hotter fires that have 
made possible the vast quantities of steel we use to-day. 

In the beginning of copper smelting, wood served as the fuel, 
but quite early in the Bronze Age someone discovered charcoal. 
The heat from a wood fire is irregular, sometimes very hot and 
then cooling suddenly. A charcoal fire, on the other hand, 
burns slowly and with a steady even heat. And what is even 
more important, in metal work, you can raise or lower this heat, 
at will, by the amount of blast you force from your bellows. 

Charcoal is made by heating sticks of wood in an oven until 
all the water and sap in the green lumber have been driven off, 
leaving only the fibre of the wood, charred into almost pure 
carbon. In the ancient days this was done by stacking wooden 
billets in loose piles and then building a dome of earth or turf 
over them so that, during the burning, no air could get to the 
billets from outside. The heat of a wood fire was then passed 
through this oven so that, without actually setting them on fire, 
the charcoal billets would become hot enough to give off their 
water and sap juices as steam and heavy oils. At a temperature 
of about three hundred degrees all the water and a good deal of 
these oils come off. At about seven hundred degrees the charred 
wood becomes almost pure carbon, porous and quite light; in 
fact, it now weighs only about one third as much as did the 
original wood. The first of these charcoals is 
the smelters and the last is the fuel of the 

In the old days charcoal burning was a si 
many days, and for thousands of years it w^doq"in the forest* 
where the wood itself was cut. The favc 
time were oak and chestnut, but almost | 
served well enough. The softwoods, like 1 




ever, were avoided because they contained too much heavy 

Up to modern times all the gases that came off in the burning 
were wasted, but to-day we find these gases are more valuable 
to us than is charcoal itself. Collected, separated and treated by 
modern methods these gases can be changed into quite a num- 
ber of new forms, and these are used in making such widely 
varied things as medicines, artificial silk, road surfacing, water- 
proofing, photographic materials, and even motor-car parts. 

The charcoal burners were 
craftsmen of no little skill in 
their trade, even in earlier 
days, for they had to know 
which kinds of wood made 
the best charcoal for each 
particular use and they must 
burn their billets to a very 
regular standard. No smith 
would buy a charcoal upon 
which he could not depend. 
Charcoal is still used by 
some smiths in forging, and 
in some parts of the world it 
is still used in blast furnaces, 
but its use is growing rare, 
for we have better fuels 
now. But through nearly 

thirty centuries the charcoal burner, living alone in the forests, 
served the smith faithfully, and though his art is now fading 
from the number of crafts, it has left its mark in the world on all 
the great iron work of the past. Just how dependent the smith 
was on the charcoal burner you may see from a law passed in 
France about two hundred years ago. This law required all the 
fuel merchants who brought their wares to the port of Paris to 
hold whatever charcoal they had in their cargoes until the 
smiths had been given a full three days in which to buy what 


STEEL 125 

they might need. Only after that could any charcoal be sold to 
the baker, the housewife or the cook. 

We do not know exactly just when coal was first used, but the 
Greeks and Romans knew about it more than two thousand 
years ago. We read how the mother of the Emperor Claudius 
made briquettes of coal dust and wax for her own household 
fires. Roman coal workings have been found in England. In 
fact, not long ago lump coal was found in the cellar of the ruins 
of a Roman house, where it had been left some two thousand 
years ago. But it is very doubtful if the Romans used much coal, 
and even more doubtfiil if they ever used any in metalworking. 

There is an old tale of the discovery of coal in France. The 
legend says that in Lifege, in the year 1049, there lived a Flemish 
ironworker named Hollos. One day when he was out of money 
he went to a charcoal burner begging for fuel to carry on his 
trade, but the burner shut the door of his house in the smith's 
face. As Master Hollos turned away disconsolate, there sud- 
denly appeared an old gnome whom the smith had befriended 
in better days. The gnome pointed to the ground beneath the 
smith's feet and then vanished. Master Hollos understood, and 
digging below the surface of the soil, he came to a bed of black 
rock which burned with a hot flame when he set it afire. The 
rock was coal. 

Whatever the truth of this, coal, although well known 
throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, seems to have been 
but little used. It is not difficult to understand why smiths pre- 
ferred charcoal, for although coal does make a hotter fire it is 
not an even and steady fire, and it is difficult at times to tell 
exactly how hot a coal fire actually is. When you are working 
with small, thin pieces of iron, such as those which Biscornet 
used in making the hinges of the doors of Notre Dame, you 
have to be very careful, for such iron is quite likely to burn, and 
once burnt it is worthless. But besides this there seems to have 
been another and even more important reason why coal was 
not more often used, and this was a curious kind of supersti- 
tious fear of coal itself, something like the fear thousands of 


years earlier that so long delayed the use of iron. There was no 
reason for it, but the prejudice was strong and widespread all 
over Europe. There were many tales of all sorts of evils that 
were thought to come from the use of coal. In France less than 
four hundred years ago, a law was passed forbidding any work- 
man to burn any coal on pain of severe punishment, because the 
people of Paris believed that an epidemic there had been caused 
by coal fumes. 

In China, however, where the use of coal began about the 
same time as it did in the Roman world, almost the oppo- 
site happened, for when Marco Polo, a merchant of Venice, 
travelled there some five hundred years ago, he saw coal used 
almost everywhere, and he wrote in his book: "It is a fact that 
all over the country of Cathay there exists a kind of black stone, 
found in beds in the mountains, which is dug out and burnt like 
wood. If you supply the fire with it at night and see that it is 
well kindled, you will find it alight in the morning. The Chinese 
have plenty of wood, but coal is cheaper and better." It is 
strange to see Marco Polo so excited at seeing coal, for he came 
from Venice which in his day was a very great and rich city, 
perhaps the greatest in Europe, and apparently he had not seen 
coal before. In one European country, however, coal was used 
for a short time a good deal earlier than elsewhere. This was in 
England during the reign of Queen Elisabeth, and it came about 
because the queen found that the charcoal burners were rapidly 
destroying the forests. Just at this time England had great need 
of all the timber they could get for the building of ships. It was 
the time of the great explorations and the long naval war be- 
tween Spain and England. So a law was passed prohibiting the 
charcoal burner from making any fuel. In fact a little later even 
the making of iron was stopped because it led to burning up so 
much wood. 

"Touching Yron Milles neere unto the Cittie of London and 
the ryver of Thames," the law stated that, on account of the 
great consumption of wood as fuel in the iron mills, recently 
erected there, no wood growing within twenty-two miles 

STEEL 127 

thereof was to be converted or employed "to cole or other 
fewell for the making of yron or yron mettell in any yron milles 
furness or hammer." The penalty for doing so Was to be a fine 
of forty shillings for each load of wood so used. 

The law further provided that thereafter no new iron works 
might be set up within twenty-two miles of London under a 
penalty of one hundred pounds fine. The act was not applied to 
any wood that grew in any part of the wealds of Surrey, Sussex 
or Kent beyond the prohibited distance. The effect of this law 
as of others passed by later rulers was to cut down the number 
of furnaces operating by three quarters of their number. The 
amount of iron made at one time amounted to nearly 200,000 
tons a year and this fell to but 1 8,000 tons by the year 1740. The 
result of this was to force the iron maker to seek a new kind of 

About the time of Queen Elizabeth, Dud Dudley began to 
experiment with new kinds of fuel. He tried pit coal, sea coal, 
peat and turf, and he actually succeeded in making both wrought 
iron and cast iron in coal-burning furnaces. He wrote a letter to 
the queen, urging that coal be used in making iron and telling 
how much more iron he could make in his furnaces than the 
ordinary smelter could make with charcoal. "They can make 
only one little lump or bloom of iron in a day and that not a 
hundred weight, nor fusible, nor fined, nor malleable, until it 
were long burned and wrought under hammers." About this 
same time coal came into use for metalworking in both France 
and Flanders, but there, as in England, the charcoal burners 
were far too strong. They were determined to stop the use of 
coal for fear it would take away their work, and they succeeded 
for nearly another hundred years. Finally, however, about 173 5, 
Abraham Darby made coke from coal in almost exactly the 
same way as charcoal is made from wood. The story is told that 
he built a fireproof hearth in the open air and piled upon it a 
mound of coal, covering it with clay and cinders and leaving 
just enough air to cause slow burning. In this way he succeeded 
in making coke. He then ordered a furnace to be filled for 


smelting, using this coke instead of charcoal. It took six days 
and nights to do this, during which time Darby never left the 
furnace, having all his meals sent to him at the furnace top. On 
the sixth night the smelting began, and as the first iron ran from 
the furnace, Darby, overcome with fatigue and relief, fell sound 
asleep on the furnace top from which he was lifted and carried 
home by his men. 

Once coke was discovered, the craft of the charcoal burner 
was doomed, for coke could be made more cheaply than char- 
coal and it gave a better and hotter fire. The use of coke had a 
great deal to do with the increased use of cast iron and steel. In 
less than one hundred years after Darby's time the amount of 
cast iron used in the world rose from practically none to more 
than a hundred million tons a year, and steel has come to be the 
most important metal the world has ever known. 

Steel was well known in the ancient world; you will remem- 
ber how the Hindus made wootz from natural steel ores in small 
clay pots, and it is quite probable that the barzel of the Black 
Sea folk was steel. An ancient Chinese writer says, "When I was 
in Tze Chow, to visit the factories there, then I understood for 
the first time that steel was in iron like worms in meal. Let it be 
subject to fire a hundred times or more and it becomes lighter 
each time until it is pure steel." That is more poetry than truth, 
because pure iron is certainly not steel, nor anything like it. 
Leih Tze, who lived in 400 B.C. in China, wrote that "steel will 
cut jade as a knife cuts mud." We may doubt that a good deal, 
too, because jade is one of the hardest stones known and very 
probably no steel then made would cut it so easily. But the 
story is interesting, in itself, because it shows that steel was 
known in China then. 

The steel of the ancients, however, was not so often made by 
smelting as by a process which we call cementation. Cementa- 
tion consists in working wrought iron at red or yellow heat on 
an anvil in the presence of a very little pure carbon dust. What 
actually happens is that during the beating of the hot iron this 
carbon works into the metal itself and becomes a part of it, form- 



ing steel. It is very difficult, however, to get an even strength 
throughout the whole billet in this way. The steel sword blades 
which were made in Damascus and Toledo, and which were so 
highly prized, were probably made by cementation, but only the 
greatest smiths could make a thin, perfect piece of steel by such 
a method. In Toledo, the smiths had two tests for their blades; 
with the long, straight, slender sword, drawn out and tapered, 
polished and wrought to a sharp, clean edge, they struck a hard, 
straight blow across a block of iron. To pass, the blade must not 
show the slightest dullness 
after this test. Then some 
of the blades were bent to 
form one quarter of a circle; 
better blades were bent to 
a half-circle; but the very 
finest of the Toledo swords 
could be bent until the tip 
touched the hilt, and would 
then spring back again as 
straight and true as they 
were before. 

In Agricola's time steel 
was made in Germany by 
adding wrought iron to 
molten cast iron in cruci- 
bles. The same method was 

used in China about the time of Genghis Khan. It is thought 
that the Greeks and Romans knew this method, too, but I doubt 
that they used it very much, because in their time it was very 
difficult to get any good cast iron. 

It was not until the eighteenth century that steel began to re- 
place wrought iron in the making of tools and weapons. About 
1740 Benjamin Hunsman, an English clockmaker, began to ex- 
periment in steelmaking in order to produce better springs for 
his clocks. He first made steel by remelting wrought iron which 
had been made into steel by cementation. Then the process was 




improved to one in which wrought iron was remelted in a clay 
crucible for two or three hours while slight amounts of alloys 
were added. Hunsman's process was costly and made but a 
small quantity at a time, but it produced a superb steel. Crucible 
steel is made to-day in electric furnaces. The steel so made is too 
expensive to be used for shapes or plates; it is chiefly used in 
making fine tools. 


The puddling furnace is used to make "wrought iron. It is a reverberatory 
furnace having the fire at one end separated from the hearth by a low 
baffle wall. As the flame sweeps over the hearth its heat is reflected from 
the arched roof of the furnace on to the metal placed on the hearth. 
Through an opening in the side wall the puddler stirs the metal with a 
long rake called a rabble. This exposes all parts to the heat so that im- 
purities and excess carbon are burned away and the metal is gradually 
reduced to a pasty granular condition resembling boiled rice. At intervals 
flux is thrown in to collect ash and impurities. The puddler collects the 
granules into a ball, rolling it back and forth over the hearth and finally 
withdrawing it at exactly the right moment. This ball is then passed 
through squeezers or is worked under the hammer into bars 

STEEL 131 

In 1784 Henry Cort, an Englishman, took out a patent on a 
rolling mill. Metal had been rolled into thin plates long before 
Cort's time, especially gold and silver for coins. Cort improved 
the method and invented grooved rollers with which he could 
roll bars and rods, flat strips and other shapes. With Cort's mill 
began the vast modern industry which makes railroad rails, 
armour plate, bars, rods and structural shapes of every kind 
with which ships, buildings and bridges are now built. Without 
rolling mills the steel industry, as it is to-day, would not exist. 

In 1783 Peter Onion, of Wales, patented a puddling furnace. 
A few years later Cort greatly improved it. His puddling furnace 
was of the type we call the reverberatory furnace, that is, a 
furnace in which the flame 
passes over the charge but 
does not come in contact 
with it. The charge in a 
reverberatory furnace is 
placed on a concave hearth. 
The heat is furnished by a PUDDLING IRON 

fire at one end of the furnace 

from which the flame is directed against the arched roof 
over the hearth. As the flame sweeps along the arch its 
heat is reflected downward, melting out the iron and burn- 
ing away the impurities. Along the sides of the furnace 
are openings through which the molten metal is stirred with 
rabbles. The finished iron is withdrawn in balls weighing 
about two hundred pounds apiece. 

These two improvements of Henry Cort have been of enor- 
mous value to the steelmakers of the world, yet after a lifetime 
of work and the expenditure of his own considerable fortune, 
Cort died in poverty. Having used all his own money on experi- 
ments and needing more to carry on his work, Cort took into 
partnership with him a high official of the government. Years 
later it was found that this man had used his office to defraud 
the government. Cort had never known of this nor had any part 
in it whatsoever yet he was forced to give his patents to the 


government in payment for the crime of his partner. Few men 
have ever given to the world such sources of wealth and work 
as Cort did. It is almost unbelievable that such a man should 
have been left to starve. 

The next great step in steelmaking was the development of 
the hot blast. In 1824 James Neilson, a Scotsman, began to heat 
the air blast before it entered the furnace. Shortly after this both 
in England and in France the hot waste gases escaping from the 
furnace top were recaptured and used to heat the blast. This 


made the furnaces far more efficient; it raised the temperature 
in the furnace and burned out more of the impurities. 

In 1705 Thomas Newcomen and Thomas Savery invented the 
first useful steam engine. It differed from the modern steam 
engine in that the steam was not used to drive the piston. In- 
stead steam was let into a cylinder until it had raised the piston 
to the cylinder head. At this point a jet of cold water was shot 
into the cylinder causing the steam to condense suddenly. This 
created a vacuum below the piston head which was then forced 
downward by the pressure of the air outside. Crude as were 
these first steam engines they were useful in operating pumps 
and many of them were built. In 1764 James Watt was called 
on to repair a small Newcomen engine at the University of 
Glasgow. Studying the engine Watt decided that it was too 
bulky and that it wasted heat. He made a number of improve- 

STEEL 133 

ments on the Newcotnen engine and a little later invented the 
modern steam engine in which high steam pressure is used to 
drive the piston and thus produce power. The invention had 
great success: Watt engines began to replace those of New- 
comen and the age of steam power was at hand. 

A few years after Watt had made his first engine Joseph 
Cugnot built, in France, the first steam-powered carriage. It 
was a huge, heavy, cumbersome vehicle, too large for any but 
a few roads of its day, but marked the beginning of a new era 
the world of the horseless carriage which Roger Bacon had 
foreseen so long before. 

In 1801 Richard Trevi- 
thick, in England, built a 
locomotive which he called 
Captain Dick's Puffer, and 
on Christmas Eve of that 
year he carried a load of 
passengers on it. A littlelater RICH ARD TREVITHICK'S STEAM 

he built a steam coach to run COACH 1 801 

on the post roads in place 

of the stage-coach of his day. It had some success but the time 
was not yet ripe for the passing of the horse-drawn coach. That 
was to come with the steam engine run on rails. 

In 1 8 14 George Stephenson built his first locomotive. Eleven 
years later the first railroad to carry passengers was opened 
between Stockton and Darlington in England. Stephenson 
acted as engineer on the first run. You can see the engine which 
pulled this train to-day. It stands on the platform of the Dar- 
lington Station the oldest "No. i" of them all. 

Railroad companies were organized and tracks laid. The prob- 
lem, however, was to get an engine which could pull a fair load 
and run without too great cost for fuel. One railroad company 
of this period faced with this problem sought to solve it by 
offering a prize of five hundred pounds for the best locomotive 
which could fulfil certain conditions. It must "effectively con- 
sume its own smoke"; attain an average speed often miles per 


hour, cost no more than five hundred and fifty pounds, and it 
must be able to draw a certain weight day after day without 
interruption of the service. 

Trial of the contestants was to take place on October 6, 1829, 
at Rainhill near Manchester on a level stretch of track about two 
miles long. Each entrant was to do twenty round trips on this 
stretch and to complete this trial within a set time. 


There were four entrants for the race: 

Braithwaite & Ericsson's "Novelty" 

Timothy Hackworth's "Sansparcil" 

Stephenson's "Rocket" 

Burstall's "Perseverance" 

By the day of the trial the whole countryside had gathered 
along the track to see the show. Huge sums were wagered and 
feeling ran high on all sides. Even among the directors of the 
railroad and the judges of the contest there was considerable 
doubt that any of the contestants would fulfil the requirements. 
Solemn statements with elaborate proofs were made that no 



steam engine could possibly go ten miles an hour, let alone 
maintain such a speed. 

Lots were drawn to determine the order in which the trials 
would be made, but when the time came to begin the contest 


only Stephenson was ready. He took the "Rocket" to the start- 
ing point where he filled the firebox, lit the fire and had a head 
of steam ready in seven minutes. 

The "Rocket" then made ten round trips pulling a weight of 
thirteen tons, requiring in all one hour and forty-eight minutes. 
After refuelling and overhaul, the "Rocket" then made ten 

i 3 6 


more round trips in two hours and three minutes. The 
highest speed attained was about 29 m.p.h. and the average 
was 15 m.p.h. 


The "Sanspareil" was the next contestant to make trial, but 
when the boiler was filled with water it was found that the loco- 


motive weighed more than the limit allowed in the rules of the 
contest. It was, nevertheless, allowed to go on with the trial, 

STEEL 137 

but during the eighth trip mechanical difficulties developed and 
it was withdrawn. 

The "Novelty" was long delayed in starting, in fact, it was 
not ready until the loth of October. It weighed about three 
tons and pulled a load of seven tons. On the first trip a pipe 
burst and the trial was suspended until the i4th, when the 
Novelty again attempted to make the run and once more failed. 

When the turn of the "Perseverance" came, it was with- 
drawn without even making a trial at all. 

Stephenson's "Rocket" had, therefore, won the prize and the 


favour of the directors of the railroad, but the public was not 
convinced as yet. There was deep prejudice and resentment 
against the railroad and the locomotive on the part of the 
country folk and the gentry who were used to coaches and 
coaching ways, and who had no desire to see the countryside 
crossed by railroad tracks or the country air filled with smoke. 
It was not, indeed, until many years later that this prejudice 
was broken down and this was accomplished by the queen her- 
self. For early in her reign Queen Victoria travelled from 
London to Scotland by rail, and from that day on the railroad 
replaced the coach and team. But if the queen accepted the rail- 
road her coachman did not, and he insisted on riding on top of 


the queen's car as he would have done on her coach. Smothered 
in smoke and stung with cinders, he valiantly clung to the 
forms of a dying world. 

In the United States the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was 
begun in 1829 and finished between Baltimore and Washington 
in 1834. The first trains used on this road were drawn by horses. 
In 1829 the Delaware and Hudson Railroad imported a loco- 
motive from England called the "Stourbridge Lion," but it 
was too heavy for the early American rails. The first locomotive 
to be built entirely in America was the "Tom Thumb." It was 



constructed by Peter Cooper in Baltimore in 1830. The boiler 
tubes were made of gun-barrels and the whole engine weighed 
less than one ton. 

While all this invention and improvement of railroads and 
locomotives was going on a similar change was taking place in 
ships and vessels. 

As early as 1785 Oliver Evans of Pennsylvania applied to the 
legislature of his state for a patent covering both steamboats 
and steam carriages, but he was told that his ideas were impos- 
sible and ridiculous. In 1790 John Fitch built the first steam- 
boat. It ran between Trenton and Philadelphia on the Delaware 
River and was capable of a speed of seven and one half miles 
an hour. A few years later William Symington in Scotland 



built the "Charlotte Dundas," a paddle-wheel steamboat which 
he ran on the Clyde canal. About the same time Captain John 
Stevens built a steamboat on the Hudson River. It was not, in 
fact, until 1807 that Fulton built the "Clermont," which also 
ran on the Hudson. The "Clermont" was a larger boat than 
any that had gone before. It made a trip of one hundred and 
ten miles in twenty-four hours. The first ship to cross the 
Atlantic using steam power was the "Savannah," and the trip 
was made in 1819. The 
"Savannah," to be on the 
safe side, carried a full rig 
of sails. 

The use of armour plate 
on warships was first sug- 
gested by Captain John 
Stevens during the War of 
1812, but nothing was done 
with his idea until 1854 
when the French govern- 
ment built a small armed 
vessel for use in the Crimean 
War. It was so successful 
that the French built the 
first real battleship, the "La 
Gloire," in 1857, and the English followed with the "Warrior" 
in 1861. The same year Erickson built the American Monitor, 
called "The cheesebox on a raft." 

The century that followed the first use of steam power saw 
not only all these locomotives, steamboats and battleships 
built, but it also saw the invention of hundreds of other engines 
and machines, tools and implements, all of which required 
metal in their making. Hargreave's jenny, Arkwright's frame, 
Crompton's mule, Cartwright's loom, Newberry's band saw, 
Faraday's dynamo, Fox's planing machine, a score of nail- 
making and wire-drawing devices, McCormick's harvester, 
Franklin's stove, Fairbairn's riveting machine, Cort's roller 






mill, Nasmyth's hammer, Whitworth's machine tools, Davy's 
lantern, Mandslay's screw cutter, Robert's lathe, Miller's circu- 
lar saw, Bentham's veneer mill, Morse's telegraph, the locks of 
Baron, Chubb, Bramah, Hobbs, and Yale. Parts of some of 


these machines and tools were made of wood at first, but iron 
quite early began to replace wood throughout. The metal used 
then was either wrought iron or crucible steel. You can see the 
models of almost all of these machines and some of the original 




engines in London at the Science Museum, South Kensington. 
When you do you will marvel at the skill and patience of the 
smiths who forged their parts. Even the great wrought-iron 



plates used on the first battleship were hammered into shape. 
But with Cort's roller mill it became more and more possible 
to roll out shapes and plates rather than to forge them. Wrought 


iron, though tough and strong, was not hard enough for all the 
uses now demanded of metals. Moreover, while the puddling 
furnace had greatly increased the output of iron, it was too slow 


a method to keep up with the growing demand for metal which 

rose more and more as new machines were invented or built. 

In thfe puddling process the quality of the metal produced 



The cupola furnace is used to melt iron so that it may be cast in moulds. 
The outer shell is made of steel with a hood at the top. It is lined with 
firebrick. Part way down is the charging floor level with a door which 
leads into the furnace and through which the charge of fuel, iron and 
flux is introduced 

At the base is the hearth lined with sand. At one side of the base and 

level with the hearth is the iron notch with a tap hole into the furnace 

and a spout to lead the molten metal off into ladles 

While the iron is being melted and collected on the hearth the tap hole 
is plugged with a breast made of clay and coke. Just above the pool of 
molten iron is the cinder notch through which molten slag is drawn off 
as it floats on the heavier iron. A little higher arc the tuyeres. These arc 
the openings through which the blast enters the furnace from the wind 
box and from there passes through the tuyeres into the furnace. About 
30,000 cubic feet of air arc required in the melting of a ton of iron 

The common fluxes used are limestone, dolomite, marble chips, oyster 
shells. All gather impurities and form slag. The fuel may be hard coal or 
coke. It takes about a ton of average fuel to produce 50 tons of molten 
iron. The iron charge is made up of pig iron from the blast furnace, to 
which scrap is usually added 





depends entirely on the judgment of the puddler. He must 
watch his furnace intently, gathering the metal into balls and 
withdrawing these at exactly the right moment. Such heavy and 
exhausting labour, kept up for long periods of time, could not 
help but dull even the best workman's judgment, with the 
result that he was apt to withdraw the metal too soon or too 
late and so produce a product of uneven quality. 

Only small quantities of wrought iron could be produced in 
a puddling furnace at a time. In 1784 the average production 


was about ten tons to each furnace each week and by 1830 this 
had only risen to two hundred tons. 

The demand for more metal and for cheaper and quicker 
methods of producing it brought into being a number of new 
methods and these, in time, made possible the mass production 
of cast iron and steel. Wrought iron was still made in the 
puddling furnace, but it became less and less important in the 
field of metals. In recent years a great deal of effort has been 
made to produce wrought iron by continuous process and it is 
said that such a process is even now being developed. Should 
this be true, wrought iron may again assume a position of 
importance among the products of iron ore. As it is now made, 

STEEL 145 

however, wrought iron accounts for less than one per cent of 
all the iron products made, whereas cast iron and steel, which 
were almost unknown a century ago, account for all the rest. 

Cast iron is completely melted iron which has been poured 
into moulds. Moulds are usually made in sand although some- 
times metal moulds are used. The sand for cast-iron moulding 
is prepared by grinding it with clay until each particle of sand 
has been coated with a thin film of clay. Coal dust or powdered 
charcoal is then added and the mixture kept slightly damp. 

Patterns are commonly made of wood in the exact shape of 
the article to be cast. If the casting to be made is at all compli- 
cated the pattern is made in halves. One half is placed face 
downwards on a steel or wooden tray and enclosed in a boxlike 
frame called a flask. Sand is then packed into the flask and 
tamped down tightly until the flask has been filled. The other 
half of the pattern is now treated in exactly the same way in 
another flask. The flasks are then turned over and the pattern 
gently lifted out, leaving in each flask a cavity which represents 
one half of the article to be cast. The two flasks are called the 
upper and lower flask, or the "cope" and the "drag." If the 
casting is very large, intermediate flasks may be used and these 
are called the "mid parts." 

When the pattern has been lifted out a channel intake and a 
vent are cut through the sand in the upper flask. The cavities in 
the two flasks now form the exact pattern of the outside of the 
article to be made. If the casting required any holes or slots 
through it as in the case of a pipe, or a cylinder block, these are 
provided for by setting cores into the mould. Coal dust, plum- 
bago, or powdered charcoal is sprinkled into the cavities to 
make the sand surface slick so that it will not stick to the cast- 
ing. This done, the upper flask is placed over the lower flask 
so that the two cavities form together the whole mould of the 
casting. Molten iron is poured into the intake channel, flowing 
into every part of the cavity that is not blocked out with a core. 
As the metal flows in, air is forced out through the vent. 

When the mould has been entirely filled with molten metal 



The high hot blast furnace is used to produce pig iron from iron ore. 
Shown at the right is the inside of the furnace. Coke, limestone and iron 
ore are let down from the charging floor through the hopper. Just below 
this and above the charge are the down-comers large steel pipes through 
which the exhaust gases, fumes and smoke are led off to the dust catchers 
and cleaners. The outer shell of the furnace is made of steel lined with fire- 
brick. In shape the furnace is something like an elongated barrel the 
walls being drawn together at the top and base with the greatest swell at 
a little below mid-height. The inward sloping walls at the bottom are 
called the boshes. These take up some of the downward pressure of the 
charge so that it does not bear too heavily over the hearth. This permits 
the blast to rise freely through the charge 

At the base of the furnace is the hearth where the liquid metal settles in 

a pool and is drawn off through the iron notch which leads the metal 

through a spout into the ladle 

Just above the surface of the molten iron is another tap hole the cinder 
notch through which molten slag is removed 

The tuyeres are ranged in a row around the furnace above the cinder 
notch. They are the nozzles through which the blast is fed into the 
furnace from a large pipe which surrounds it. This pipe is called the 
bustle pipe and it leads the blast from the stove to the furnace. The air 
blast is heated in the stove by use of the waste furnace gases 

At the right is shown the exterior of the furnace and between the two 
furnaces is the stove. Above and below the stove are the dust catchers 
and cleaners with the charge hoist shown in the distance. The tempera- 
ture in the furnace ranges between 500?. at the top to 3,632 at 

the tuyeres 





the casting is allowed to cool and the sand removed from the 
flasks. The cores are then pulled out and the casting is ready 
for machining. 

The tools of the founder are simple and few rammers of 
different shapes for packing sand; trowels or sleekers used to 



smooth out any faults in the mould; ladles in which to carry the 
hot metal from the cupola to the mould; shovels, sieves, rakes 
and riddles for preparing the sand. 

Cast iron was known in the ancient world but it was very 
rarely made. There are two reasons for this. For one thing it 
takes a much hotter fire to make molten iron than is required to 
prepare blooms a higher heat than could be raised in the low 



furnaces of the ancient world. Had there been any real need of 
cast iron at that time I believe the Greek and Roman smiths 
would have learned to make it. The products of the ancient 
metalworker's shop, however, were chiefly tools and weapons. 
Cast iron, being brittle, was 
not a good metal from which 
to fashion swords or plough 
points, nor would it have 
served for the armour of the 
Middle Ages. 

After the invention of the 
hot-blast furnace which made 
possible the rapid and cheap 
production of pig iron, cast 
iron came quite quickly into 
common use, replacing 
wrought iron in a great many 
uses. But cast iron was still 
not the perfect metal sought 
by the smith. What was 
needed in an age of 
machinery, railroads, steam- 
ships and great buildings 
was a metal which would be 
strong, tough and hard, with- 
out being brittle. 

Such a metal was known 
then. It was steel. But 
steel produced by cementa- 
tion or even in crucibles was 
far too expensive for any common usage. 

About the middle of the nineteenth century several new 
processes for making steel came into being in rapid succession 
in England, France and America. 

In England in i8j6 Sir Henry Bessemer read a paper before 
The British Association for the Advancement of Science 



announcing to the world the discovery of a new method for 
producing steel. This method has been known ever since as the 
Bessemer process. At first, however, it was a failure in actual 
practice. Then with Robert Mushet, Bessemer added improve- 
ments which made it a success. 

About this same time, if not in fact a little earlier, William 
Kelly invented in America almost identically the same process 
which Bessemer was developing in England. Unfortunately for 


Mr. Kelly the United States was not yet ready for steel and he 
could get little support for his process whereas in England 
Bessemer was given great honour and wealth. Some years later 
Kelly secured patents on his process. The Bessemer and Kelly 
patents were finally combined in the United States so that Kelly 
eventually received substantial reward for his work. 

The Bessemer process used, as a furnace, a large, open- 
mouthed, pear-shaped crucible. At the base of the crucible 
there were inlet valves through which air was blown into the 

STEEL 151 

crucible under great pressure. The crucible was charged with 
molten pig iron and the air was forced through the charge, 
causing great heat to be generated which burned away carbon 
and other impurities, thus converting the iron into steel. 
The modern Bessemer furnace, which is sometimes called 



the Thomas-Gilchrist furnace after the two men who made 
improvements on the earlier type, is a pear-shaped crucible 
pivoted so that it may be tilted. The molten pig iron is run in 
while the furnace is tilted to the horizontal position and the 
furnace is then turned erect as the blast is sent in. 

The steel first made in the Bessemer furnace was called mild 


steel. It was actually closer to wrought iron than steel. The steel 
produced in the Bessemer furnace to-day is highly satisfactory 
for many purposes, but another process the open-hearth pro- 
cess is now more generally used. 

The open-hearth furnace was invented in England by Sir 
William Siemens about a year after Bessemer first announced 
his discovery. In France the Siemen furnace was greatly 
improved by the Martin brothers. 

The purpose of the open-hearth furnace is to convert pig 
iron as made by the blast furnace into steel. The open-hearth 
furnace is low, and, as in the reverberatory furnace, heat is 
deflected from the low arch towards the charge on the shallow 
hearth. Producer gas, natural gas, oil, tar or pulverized coal is 
used to furnish the flame. There are two openings at each end 
of the furnace. Gas and air are admitted at one end and the 
products of combustion are allowed to escape at the other. The 
direction of flow of these is reversed every fifteen or twenty 
minutes. The air and some kinds of gases are always preheated. 
Below the furnace floor at each end are two chambers called 
regenerative chambers. They are filled with a checkerwork of 
firebrick. The hot exhaust gases in passing through these cham- 
bers heat the brick. When the direction of flow is reversed these 
hot bricks serve to heat the ingoing air and gases. The temper- 
ature in the furnace rises to 3,100 F., at which heat all the 
impurities are driven off and consumed, leaving only the 
amount of carbon required to make steel. The 'furnace is 
charged with pig iron, limestone, iron ore and scrap iron. The 
molten steel and slag are discharged at the rear of the furnace. 
The lighter slag, floating on the molten steel, is drawn off 
above; the steel flows through a taphole into a ladle, from 
which it is poured into moulds to form ingots. Alloys may be 
added either in the furnace or in the ladle. Usually the open- 
hearth furnaces are stationary but some are made to tilt so that 
a part of the charge may be drawn off without removing the 
whole charge. 

In 1722 Reaumur, in France, placed a white iron casting in an 





iron box packed with fine-ground hematite ore and allowed 
this to be heated slowly and for a long time. Upon removal he 
found the cast iron had become softer, far less brittle and could 
be bent slightly without fracture. The iron so made is called 
malleable cast iron. It is still made in this way in the United 
States, but here sometimes iron scale and cast-iron filings are 
used in place of hematite. It takes from twenty-four to two 
thousand hours of "soaking" in an oven to complete the pro- 
cess; the time depending on the size of the casting. The temper- 
ature of the oven is kept at about 3,600 F. 

Here, in the order of their development, is a summary of all 
the different furnaces used to convert iron ore into useful metal. 
The first group of these furnaces are the blastfurnaces. 

The primitive blast furnace was low, being merely a hearth 
scooped out of the earth and surrounded by a curb of stone or 
turf. The only blast was that furnished by the natural draft of 
the flue. The fuel was dried wood and the product coarse, ash- 
encrusted blooms which were reheated and worked into 
wrought iron on the anvil. 

The Catalan blastfurnace was developed in prehistoric Spain. 
It had a stone hearth and stone walls. The flue was extended 
and the blast was furnished by hand-operated bellows. The 
fuel was charcoal, and the furnace produced blooms and in rare 
instances pig iron. Both the blooms and the pig iron were 
reheated and worked under the hammer. The furnace produced 
about one hundred and forty pounds of iron in five hours. 

The Rowan blast furnace was similar to the Catalan furnace 
but was a little higher. The fuel was charcoal and the blast was 
furnished by large, hand-operated double bellows. The use of 
fluxes began in Roman times. The product of the Roman fur- 
nace was blooms and pig iron. Pig iron, however, was rare. 

The high blastfurnace came into use in Germany in the four- 
teenth century when water power was first used to operate 
bellows in producing a strong, continuous blast. The fuel used 
was charcoal and the height of the furnace was limited to the 
weight of ore which the charcoal charge could bear. These 



furnaces produced blooms and cast iron. They produced a 
better grade of iron and could smelt leaner ores, but the amount 
of iron produced by each furnace was not great. Dudley, in 
the seventeenth century, said it was but one hundred pounds 
per day. 
The high blast furnace was greatly improved in 1735 when 



Abraham Darby introduced the use of coke as the fuel. Coke 
furnished a hotter fire and could bear a far heavier load of iron 
ore than could be borne by charcoal. The blast was improved 
after the invention of the steam engine when huge steam piston 
bellows were used to provide a strong, continuous blast. The 
final improvement was made in 1824 when James Neilson dis- 
covered that he could use the waste gases of the blast furnace 


to heat the blast. Before the coming of the hot blast the weekly 
output of a furnace in England was about one hundred tons of 
iron and it required about eight tons of coal to each ton of 
crude iron produced. After the introduction of the hot blast it 
required less than three tons of coal to each ton of crude iron. 

The modern high blast furnace has some improvements and 
refinements over those of the seventeenth century. The prin- 
cipal change is the use of greater quantities of scrap iron and 
steel mixed with raw ore. The modern furnace is larger, higher 
and more efficient. It has a daily average capacity of one thou- 
sand tons of pig iron. Two tons of iron ore, one ton of coke 
and one third ton of limestone are required for each ton of 
crude iron produced. 

Cast iron was known in the Greek and Roman world, but it 
was rare and little used until recent modern times. Reaumur's 
method of annealing cast iron which was discovered in 1722 
made cast iron more useful and the hot-blast furnace made its 
production cheap. It has come to be one of the principal pro- 
ducts of iron ore in use to-day. 

Steel was made in minute quantities in the ancient world 
from natural ores smelted in sealed clay crucibles. It was also 
made by the process of cementation that is, the working of 
wrought iron in the presence of carbon. Some steel was made 
in the Middle Ages by melting cast iron with wrought iron in 

Early in the eighteenth century Hunsman made crucible 
steel in quantities by remelting steel made by cementation in 
sealed crucibles. Blister steel was made about the same time by 
heating iron bars packed in pots and surrounded by powdered 

The great modern development in steelmaking came with 
the invention of the open-hearth and the Bessemer furnaces. 
These brought tremendous changes in the world and steel came 
in less than a century to be the most important metal used by 
man. One hundred years ago there were but a few furnaces 
for making steel in all the world. There were steel works in 



England, France, Germany, Spain and the United States, but 
almost none in other countries. To-day every important nation 
on earth makes steel. In 1937 there was produced by the fur- 
naces of the world more than one hundred and thirty million 
tons of steel. One third of this is in the United States. Truly 
ours may be called the Age of Steel. 
We have now seen how the useful ores were first mined and 


smelted and worked into tools and weapons. Copper, bronze, 
wrought iron, cast iron and steel these have been the metals 
of the toolmaker, the armourer and the smith throughout the 

Let us now go back through the centuries, stopping at a 
workshop here and there on the way to see something of how 
the smiths have worked in every age and what they made in 
their shops. 

IX. The blacksmith Shop 

IN the modern world the metalworker, the toolmaker or the 
machinist rarely ever works as an individual in a shop of 
his own. Instead of this he usually works as a member of a team 
of craftsmen each of whom has a particular part to play and all 
of whom are required in the making of a single article. Such a 
team may be made up of a few workers in a small shop or it may 
include the many thousands of workers employed in a vast 
factory. Just as the modern craftsman does not work as an 
individual, neither does he work so much to-day with hand 
tools as he formerly did. 

In modern times fine, close work is done in the machine shop 
on lathes and milling machines. It is the craft of the machinist 
rather than that of the smith. Much of the work that was 
formerly done on the anvil or in the vice is now done by the use 
of dies and stamping machines. Castings are made in many 
types of metal brass, bronze, steel, aluminium, iron and scores 
of alloys. These castings are finished to very exact dimensions 
on machines. Sheet metal is now shaped in great presses which 
turn out everything from armour plate to motor-car bodies, 
doing in a moment more work than a smith could accomplish 
at his forge in many days. 

The exactness required in modern machine parts is far beyond 
anything that could ever be attained on an anvil or by filing in a 
vice. It is not at all uncommon, in aircraft construction, to 
require parts to fit to one ten thousandths of an inch an 
amount which could not even be measured a few years ago, let 
alone attained. 

Toolmaking and machine-shop work are now done by 
specialists each man being trained to handle a particular part 
of the work. There are so many kinds of metal used to-day and 
modern machines have become so complex that no single 



worker can be expected to know all the trades of the mechanical 

To-day every machine and device known is used to relieve 
the workman of excess labour and to increase his accuracy and 
efficiency. New machines are constantly being invented to 
improve manufacturing processes and to reduce costs. 

The number and variety of these machines and the vast 
range of their uses are so great as to make it impossible to tell 
you of all of them here. Lathes, shapers, milling machines, 
stamps, presses, even a modern method of making iron castings 
by continuous process these are but a few of the machine 
types and methods. 

Many of these machines seem almost human in their auto- 
matic operation. Most of them are actually more exact and 
faithful in their accuracy than are the human hand and eye. 

With these machines, articles are stamped or cast, shaped or 
rolled into the desired form, leaving the craftsman only the 
work of finishing and assembling. The assembling of metal 
parts, whether in buildings or machines, requires that all the 
separate pieces be fastened together. This may be done by rivet- 
ing, by welding, or by the use of machine screws or bolts. 

Probably the oldest method is that of welding. The heat 
required for welding two pieces of iron together is very near 
the melting point of the iron itself, and at that heat small, thin 
pieces of iron are likely to catch fire and burn, and once burned 
they are worthless for welding. "Learn to make ready the iron 
to the exact measure of the heat that you need, for it is no use 
trying to work on the anvil which has not been properly pre- 
pared," says Master Jousse, and he goes on to tell how iron was 
welded in his own shop. The helper would blow up the fire and 
then the master would thrust into the blowing charcoal the tips 
of the pieces to be welded, for only a poor craftsman heats more 
of the iron than that part on which he is going to work. He 
watches the fire as it grows hotter and then just when the spark- 
lets begin to leap in a maze of bright arcs, he signs to his helper, 
who lifts one piece of iron from the fire with his tongs, while 



the master takes the other. Each of them taps his piece lightly 
on the anvil to jar loose any scale or ashes that may have stuck 
to it, and sprinkles the hot iron with dry, clean sand to cut away 
any grease. Now the helper sets his piece on the anvil and the 
master places the other piece above it, just where the joint is to 
be made, and strikes it lightly at first, because a hard blow 
might cause the pieces to slip out of alignment. Then swiftly 
under the increasingly hard blows of the hammer the hot iron 




6 V. 7 STUD. 8 SCARF. 9 LAP 

knits until each piece becomes a part of the other. The joint is 
shaped and squared until you can scarcely see where it was 
made. With light finishing blows, the surface is smoothed until 
it looks almost as if it had been filed, with only the slightest 
trace of the hammer marks showing. Among some smiths, and 
in some periods, it has been the custom to leave heavy hammer 
marks on the iron surface; in fact, smiths have been known to 
go to considerable trouble to do this. On grilles and bars where 
you want an irregular surface, as a decoration, this may be 


done. But on most iron work, it is but false and cheap crafts- 
manship. No true artisan ever shows in his work any of the 
effort that goes into the making of it. Quite the contrary, the 
finest work of real masters always looks so simple and easily 
done that you are never aware of the skill and labour by which 
it was produced. 

Welding must be done swiftly and with surely clean and 
perfectly heated metal, for if you fail to make a joint the first 
time you may not be able to make one at all. 

Some blacksmiths to-day make their joints as Jousse did, 
even to using charcoal for fuel and sand for cleaning, but most 
smiths now use coke in their fires and clean their iron with 
borax or sal ammoniac. 

There are several methods of welding that were not invented 
until modern times. One of these uses the oxyacetylene flame 
which is made by bringing together two streams of gas, one of 
oxygen and the other of acetylene. The nozzle that caps the 
conductor tubes is so designed that the acetylene burns in the 
oxygen streams with an intense, bright flame which at its heart 
has a temperature of about seven thousand degrees. The welder 
plays the flame lightly on the joint and then feeds into it thin 
pencils of iron which melt almost at once, forming the joint as 
it cools. This flame is so bright and hot you must wear a mask 
when you are using it, or even in watching it from near by. 

By adjusting the nozzle, the flame can be brought to a fine, 
sharp point, and in this shape it is used as a blade to cut through 
the heavy steel of girders, buildings and bridges, or the armour 
plate of battleships, when these are broken up for scrap. The 
flame burns a thin straight cut through the hardest kinds of 
metal almost as easily and quickly as you can saw through a 
wooden board. 

Another modern method of welding, now coming into use 
even for the erection of the steelwork of skyscrapers, bridges 
and ships, is that in which electricity is used as the source of 
heat. Electric welding is of two main types: flash welding and 
arc welding. The latter, in which a third metal is introduced, as 


in the oxyacetylene method, is the older. You can see the arc- 
welding process in use wherever new tracks or sections of track 
are laid in an electric railway line. The welder squats beside the 
rails, his eyes and hands carefully shielded, heating the metal at 
the juncture of two sections with his electric arc and feeding 
rods of metal into the joints until the space between the sections 
is tightly filled. This is done to insure a continuous flow of 
current in the rail. 

Flash welding, simpler of the two processes since it requires 
no third metal has been slower to develop. However, at least 
in the motor-car industry, flash welding has been developed 
in some cases to the point where the process takes place auto- 
matically within a boxlike housing which encloses the parts to 
be joined, and all the worker needs do is insert the parts in a 
frame or jig, close a door, start the machine, press buttons as 
they are uncovered in turn by a moving guard, and remove the 
welded assembly of parts when the process is completed. This 
kind of welding is done by causing a current of electricity to 
pass through the metal where the joint is to be made. Because 
the current is blocked a little here, the metal becomes extremely 
hot, so hot, in fact, that the two pieces of iron begin to melt a 
little on the surface where they touch and so bind together. 

The joining of two pieces of metal together by riveting is 
almost as old as welding. Riveting was known and used on 
sheet metal even as early as the Bronze Age, but it did not come 
to be a fine and skilled art until the Middle Ages, when it was 
used to fasten together the hundreds of parts that then went 
into making armour for horses and men. In the modern world 
of steel ships and buildings riveting is used more often than 
welding. All the steel parts of buildings and ships are cut to 
exact size and shape at the mill and they are there punched for 
rivet holes. These parts, whether the columns or beams of 
buildings or the struts and plates of a ship, must fit together 
so that the rivet holes at the joints exactly line up. 

When the steel members which are to form the structural 
frame of a building arrive at the site they are first sorted and 


placed at convenient points where the hoisting engine can pick 
them up. The sorter, who does this, knows where each piece of 
steel is to go on the building by marks which have been painted 
on it at the shop. The actual handling of the steel is done by the 
heavy gang. 

As the time comes for each particular piece of steel to go up, 
the rigger loops and ties a cable around it or clips it in the jaws 
of a dog, so that it is held rigidly in place as it is raised. The 
raising of the steel is done by the hoisting engineer who oper- 
ates a derrick. So skilled are these hoisting engineers that they 
can lift an enormous weight of steel and lay it right in the hands 
of the erecting crew even though these workers may be far up 
on the steel skeleton; and what is almost more amazing is how 
gently and accurately they do this, being guided by the hand or 
whistle signals from a workman far above them. These signals 
are made by a bridgeman, who, with the bolter-up, eases the 
steel into place and aligns it by driving a drift pin through the 
rivet holes. This holds the steel steady until the bolter-up can 
clip it to the frame with temporary bolts. This work of bolting 
members into place can be done faster than the riveting crew 
can follow. The temporarily bolted frame is quite strong 
enough to carry itself and withstand the force of the wind, but 
it must not be allowed to get too far ahead of the riveting crew. 
At least one frightful collapse of a steel frame once occurred 
because the temporary bolting work had been pushed too far 
ahead of the riveting crew. 

The riveting crew knits the structural steel frame together. 
Rivets are round, dome-headed pins with a shank long enough 
to pass clear through the two steel members that are to be 
fastened with enough shank still projecting to form another 

A heater at a forge heats the rivets to a red- white heat and 
picking them up in a pair of tongs tosses them to the catcher. 
As needed, the rivet boy brings a new supply of cold rivets to 
the forge. The catcher, or rivet-sticker, takes out the temporary 
bolts one by one and replaces them with the hot rivet. Beside 



him stands a bucker-up or dolly-man who holds a heavy cup- 
shaped tool against the rivet head while the riveter hammers 
down the projecting shank tip into a round, dome-shaped head. 
Sometimes the forge may be quite far above or below where 
the riveting crew is working. It is then you see the smooth 
grace and perfect timing of the steel workers as the sparkling 

rivet sails through the air 
and is caught in a cup on the 
riveter's hand a cup little 
larger than his hand! When 
you think that this crew is 
working on footholds so 
narrow that the slightest 
mis-step may mean a plunge 
of thirty stories or more you 
get some notion of what a 
sense of balance and rhythm 
these workers have. 

Riveting crews almost 
always stick together, going 
from job to job as a team. 
They know each other per- 

When you really know 
what is going on, there is 
almost no sight in the 
world so thrilling as a crew of steel erectors at work, so perfect 
is their team work. While you watch a building grow 
and take form before your eyes, you are scarcely aware of the 
intense, swift skill that goes into such labour. 

While the modern toolmaker, machine operator and steel 
erector work as part of a team of craftsmen, the blacksmith of 
but a few years ago did not. 

We would find him alone in his shop or aided by a few 
helpers, surrounded by the many tools of his trade and engaged 
in a great variety of tasks. 



Here are the blacksmith shop and the tools of the trade. First 
there are the fire tools forge and blower, shovel, rake, hook, 
poker and sprinkling can. The forge itself is an open hearth 
with a hood overhead to lead off the smoke and fumes. The fire 
may be made of soft coal, gas, coke or charcoal. Coke or char- 
coal is best. The blast may be furnished by a pair of bellows or 



by a fan. Near at hand in a trough is water for use in cooling 
iron or in dampening the fire. Near by, too, is a tempering bath 
of oil. 

The blacksmith's workbench is the anvil. It weighs about 
two hundred pounds and is made of wrought iron faced with 
steel. The clean bell-like ring you hear when an anvil is struck 
is the proof mark of its quality. The anvil is shaped to serve 
every need of the smith it acts as the other half of every 
hammer blow. The face is straight and level lengthwise but 
slightly crowned across. It is made in this way so that the face 


edge will not mark iron as it is worked across the anvil. This 
crown also permits a hard blow to be struck without stinging 
the hand. At one end of the anvil is the horn. The horn is round 
and tapers to a point. It is used in working curves and rounded 
parts. At the rear of the face there are two holes. One is square 
and is called the hardy hole. It receives the shank of anvil tools 
and holds them rigidly in place. The other hole is smaller and 
round. It is the pritchel hole into which the point of a punch 
may pass when the holes are punched through iron. The anvil 
tools are of two kinds cutting and shaping tools. All have 
square shanks that fit into the hardy hole. The cutters are like 
chisels turned upwards. Iron to be cut is laid across this blade 
and tapped from above. Some cutters are fairly blunt these 
are for cold work; others are sharp. Some of the sharp-bladed 
anvil tools are bevelled on both sides, others are bevelled on one 
face and straight on the other. These sharp-bladed cutting tools 
are for use on hot iron. Cutting is also done with cold or hot 
chisels either held in the hand or with tongs. Sometimes a cut- 
ting set is used, the set being made like a chisel with a haft. 
There are hot and cold sets, curve-faced sets, gouges and 
fullers. The fuller is like a very dull chisel with a rounded nose. 
It is sometimes used alone and sometimes it is used with an 
anvil tool, called the bottom fuller. The bottom fuller is a 
round-nosed blade turned upwards. Its shank is set in the 
hardy hole. The fuller is used to spread iron and to work in 
narrow places or near edges. It is used to draw iron out from a 
bar and to flatten it roughly. Still another cutter is made of a 
plate of steel pierced with holes of different sizes and shapes 
through which bars or rods are thrust to be cut off flush with 
the plate face by use of the straight-bladed chisel. 

The shaping tools are usually made in two parts. There is a 
bottom half with a square shank to fit the hardy hole and a 
top half which fits over the bottom mould. Hot iron is placed 
between these two parts and the hammer blow struck against 
the butt of the upper tool. The two parts then act together as a 
mould to shape the iron. Most of these shaping tools are called 



swages. Here is a pair, each side of which is a half-round 
groove. A rod or bar placed between these could be worked 
round and smooth. There are swages for forming bolt heads 
squares and hexagons. The V-shaped swage makes square 


corners and square bolt heads. The two half hexagons make 
the common hexagonal bolt head. 

The smith needs so many kinds and shapes of swage that he 
usually has a swage block in the shop. This is a thick heavy slab 


of steel which is pierced by holes of many sizes and shapes. 
These are used in bending and cutting rods and bars. The edges 
of the swage block are cut with many forms half rounds of 
different sizes, large and small Vs, half hexagons, and the like. 
The swage block may be used flat on the anvil or set on edge, 



or it may have a base of its own. You may see in the drawings 
a number of swages and other anvil tools, shaping tools for 
bolts, links, joints, tees and other special forms. 

The hammer, of all the smith's tools, is the one he most uses. 


It is as much a part of his hand as are his fingers. Hammers 
come in a variety of sizes, weights and kinds. The hand 
hammer is the master smith's own particular tool. It has a 
handle about sixteen inches long and weighs about two pounds. 


The hand sledge and the swing sledge are the helper's tools. 
The hand sledge weighs from six to eight pounds; it has a 
handle about thirty inches long and it is swung from about 
shoulder height. The swing sledge weighs up to twenty 
pounds, has a handle slightly longer than the hand sledge and 



it strikes with a full two-arm swing. All hammer faces are 
slightly rounded and the edges are carefully turned so that 
they will not leave hammer marks on the iron. 

The rear of the hammer head may be the ball peen, the cross 
peen or the straight peen. The peen face is used to stretch or 
spread metal. The ball works out hollow curves, warping the 
iron in all directions at the same time. The cross peen spreads 
the iron lengthwise. The straight peen spreads the metal cross- 
wise. Each of them does 
much the same work as the 

When the smith wants to 
smooth a joint or a surface 
he uses the square-set ham- 
mer on the flatter. The 
flatter is a set with a 
smooth, level face with 
only the edges rounded. 
It is held against the iron 
and struck with the ham- 
mer or sledge, smoothing 
and flattening the iron to 
a true, level and unmarked 

Sometimes when the 
smith is working on a long bar or rod he may hold the cold 
end in his hand, but more often he must grip the piece close 
to the heated end and for this purpose he has a number of 

The head of the tongs is called the jaws; the handles, the 
reins, and the link which clips them together, the coupler. 
Tongs come in a great variety of shapes and with special jaws 
or bits for special purposes. There are tongs for holding rivets, 
tongs for bolts, pincer tongs, square-clip tongs, duck-bill 
tongs, angle tongs, link tongs, pipe tongs and pliers. 
To measure his work the smith has the steel tape, the square, 




the bevel square, the metal rule, the T square, single and 
double callipers and the compass. 

To make threads, the smith uses the tap and the die. The tap 
is a tapered rod having threads cut along its shank. Grooves 
are cut lengthwise through these threads to allow metal slivers 
to pass upward out of the hole as threads are cut. The tap is 
used for threads cut on the inside of a hole or pipe. The die, on 
the other hand, cuts outside threads. The die is made in two 
halves. It is clamped around a rod or pipe which is to be 
threaded. This clamping is done with the stock which has a 
recess into which the die fits and a set screw which forces the 
two jaws of the die together. There must be a separate tap 
and die for every different standard size of rod or pipe. 

For drilling holes there are both power and hand drills each 
provided with bit points of every kind and size. Cutting is 
sometimes done with a power hack saw, or the hand hack saw 
may be used. A good shop would have a steam hammer for 
heavy work. Frequently in shops where small and delicate 
work is done there are a number of miniature anvils. These are 
set in the hardy hole of the great anvil and are used for dose 
work or on small pieces. Besides these common tools, some 
smiths use a number of side sets and radius tools, but these are 
not so usual. 

There are files in the shop coarse and fine, rasps and 
smooths, flats, rounds and rattails. These are used with the 
metal firmly held in the vice. The art of filing is still important 
to the smith but not so important to-day as it was in former 

We have already seen how the coming of steam power and 
the use of steam engines so greatly increased the field of the 
metal craftsmen's work. About a century after Newcomen and 
Watt, two more power sources were discovered electricity 
and the internal-combustion engine. Steam power had been 
useful in operating powerful engines, to pump water, drive 
locomotives, propel ships and run the machinery of mills. But 
the steam engine had one disadvantage: It was large and heavy. 




The electric motor and the petrol engine on the other hand 
could be made small, compact and light so just as the steam 
engine made possible the railroad train and the steamship, so 
the electric motor and the internal-combustion engine brought 
into being the motor-car and the aeroplane. 

The first dynamos and electric motors were made in labora- 
tories by scientists, and the invention and early improvement 
of the petrol motor were the work of scientists and engineers. 
But as the motor-car and the tramcar came more and more into 
use there was need of mechanics to build them, and these 
mechanics were drawn from the blacksmith shop and the forge. 


It was in a combination blacksmith shop and machine shop 
that the first motor-car and aeroplane were made. 

While the modern world of machines and power has gone 
far beyond the dream of the smith of other times, the black- 
smith shop has still an important part to play. There is a black- 
smith shop on every ocean liner, in every shipyard and railroad 
repair depot. There could be no skyscrapers built without 
blacksmiths' work; no oil wells drilled. The blacksmith is still 
the pioneer of the metal trades. A few years ago he was the very 
heart and centre from which the great machine world grew. 

In your grandfather's time the blacksmith shod horses, made 
plough points, built waggons and carriages, and made all kinds 
of tools and implements. He could turn his hand to making 
guns or clocks or locks and keys. Here is the kind of shop he 
worked in and here are some of the things he made. 


In a shop of fifty years ago you would find, besides all the 
modern smithing tools, a lathe, a bolt cutter, a screw-making 
machine, a power hammer and a great many woodworking 
tools. For the blacksmiths of that day were wheelwrights, 
wainwrights, carriage builders as well as horseshoers and tool- 
makers. You have but to look at the graceful and sturdy carts 
and sleighs, waggons and carriages of a bygone day to know 
something of the skill and cunning of the smiths who made 

These vehicles were as lightly made as could be to save the 
strength of the horses that pulled them, but they were strongly 
built as well. There were 
no such smooth, straight 
highways then as we know 
now. Wheels ran in ruts, 
often deep and frozen, 
where a sudden wrench 
might shatter the spokes or 
twist the rims of wheels 
less well made. The smith 
had to know wood as well 
as iron. 

The styles in carriages PHAETON 

changed in our grandfathers' 

day almost as often as do the styles in motor-cars to-day. The 
smith and his fellow-artisans, the carriage builder and the cart- 
wright, had to be able to build any of the common kinds of 
vehicle as well as those of special design made to suit the fancies 
of their customers. There were buggies, road carts, victorias 
and cabs the English surrey, the French phaeton, the Russian 
droshky and the Irish car. There were sleighs and sledges and 
a whole range of carts and waggons delivery waggons and 
drays that carried the merchants* goods the carts and wains 
that brought the farmers' crops to market. Part blacksmith's 
work, part carpentry, each called for the best of their builder's 


Not all blacksmiths of fifty years ago built carriages and 
waggons. Coach work was a highly skilled craft in itself. But 
if all smiths did not make vehicles, almost every smith was 
called upon to repair them, and especially to make new wheels 
or to replace worn out tyres. 

A waggon-wheel may be divided into three parts: the hub, 
the spokes and the rim. The hub was turned on a lathe from 


well-seasoned wood gum, hickory or ash. It was then bored 
through the centre with a hub auger to receive the axle-box 
which served as the axle bearing. Around the waist of the hub 
a series of mortises were cut to receive the spoke ends. These 
mortises were spaced far enough apart so that they did not 
weaken the hub too much. At the hub end of the spoke a 
square-faced tenon was cut so that it would fit as tightly as 
possible into the hub mortises without splitting the hub itself. 
It was driven in until the shoulder of the spoke met the hub. 
Sometimes this was done by hand. In better shops it was done 
by a spoke-driving machine. At the rim end the spoke was 
usually round and the tenon made to fit snugly into a mortise in 
the rim. The number of spokes used in different types of wheel 


varied greatly. In the drawing of the buggy each wheel is 
shown with fourteen spokes; the phaeton wheels (see p. 181) 


had sixteen, and there were fewer in the wheels of the surrey 
and the cab. In some of the older carts and waggons these were 
sometimes as few as four. However many spokes were used 


their number was almost always even so that each spoke 
might be set exactly opposite another and in a straight line 
with it. Spokes might have almost any shape in section 

I 7 8 


round, oval or octagonal. Whatever its shape each spoke must 
be able to carry the entire load put on the waggon. A hickory 
spoke one half inch in diameter would carry a load of seven 
hundred and fifty pounds, while a hickory spoke no larger 
around than your wrist would carry four or five tons. 

The rim was made up of the felloes and the tyres. Felloes 
were circular segments of wood usually made by bending a 
straight piece of hickory or ash to the curve required. Some 
woods may be bent into curves by first steaming them for a 

period of time and then 
forming them in moulds or 
on frames. Ash and hickory 
were particularly suitable 
because they not only bent 
readily after steaming but 
once bent they held their 
new shape and remained 
strong and tough. Where 
the felloes joined end to end 
they were sometimes jointed 
but more often they were 
held together by a clamp 
on the inner side of the rim. 

With the spokes driven into the hub and the felloes set in 
place the next step was to put on the tyre. Tyres served at once 
to bind the whole wheel rigidly together and to provide a 
hard, tough-wearing surface on which the wheel might run. 
The smith made his tyres of flat iron strips welded to form a 
circle. Frequently a smith made up tyres of various sizes and 
weight in advance, and as these might be slightly too large or 
too small to fit a particular rim he had devices for stretching or 
reducing them. When a tyre was ready to be put on it was 
heated all over until it had swelled enough so that it would 
just slip over the rim. It was then allowed to cool. As it cooled 
it shrank, drawing itself tighter and tighter around the outer 
curve of the rim, pulling felloes, spokes and hub into a strong, 



rigid wheel. Sometimes the felloes were heated in a bath of 
hot oil which was supposed to make them more durable. Rivets 
were sometimes driven through the tyre to clamp it to the rim, 
but this was neither always necessary nor always done. Once 
a tyre had been properly made and set it should stay in place 
until it wore out; only an ill-set tyre ever came loose from 
the rim. 

All this work of making hubs, spokes, rims and tyres 
required equipment hub augers, spokeshaves, mortise cutters, 


spoke drivers, felloe shapers, heating and cooling devices for 
tyres, stretchers and upsetters. Whcelmaking and tyre changing 
were important parts of the smith's work. 

If you have ever ridden in a waggon which had no springs 
or in which a spring had broken you will understand why 
spring making and repairing were also important parts of the 
smith's work. Any piece of tempered steel will spring back to 
its original shape after bending provided it has not been bent 
too far or kept bent too long. Its ability to do this is called its 
elasticity. All springs, whatever their shape, are made on this 


principle the spiral spring in your watch, the coil spring in 

the mattress on your bed and the leaf springs of motor-cars. 

On the carriages of the nineteenth century, the leaf springs 


were the type most commonly used. They were made up of 
leaf on leaf of curved steel, each leaf being a little shorter and 
more deeply curved than the one next below it. The leaves 


touched only at their tips and they were held together by 
shackles. On the early carriages and waggons the springs were 
fairly simple, sometimes being but single leaves bent into a 
curve which would support the body and take up the shock of 
bumps. On some ancient carriages and coaches the bodies were 



carried in slings made of heavy leather straps which connected 
at their ends with springs. 

The object of all carriage springs is to take up the shock of 
bumps and to distribute this shock so that the rider does not 
feel it. The heavy coaches with their leather straps and single 
springs must have been fairly rough to the riders, especially 
on the rutted roads of coaching days. In the days of our grand- 
fathers the art of making springs had advanced until the car- 
riages and waggons of that time were supported on a whole 
network of springs called the "gear." Some acted lengthwise 
of the carriage some acted 
crosswise. These springs 
were so set and attached 
that any bump against a 
wheel would be smoothed 
out in passing through the 
springs to the carriage body. 
Only a very severe shock 
would jar the rider. 

Whatever their kind 
spring making called for the 
highest skill both in shaping 
the spring and in tempering the metal from which it was 
made. Furthermore, almost all springs worked in pairs, 
and each spring of a pair must be exactly like the other, 
neither stronger nor more rigid, as a difference between 
the two would cause the body to tip. 

When we look back at the workmanship and knowledge that 
were daily demanded of the smith we begin to realize what 
superb craftsmen these folk were. Not only did they make 
wheels and springs, set tyres and repair carriages and waggons, 
but they shod the horses, repaired the farmer's plough and 
reaper, and made tools for the carpenter and mason and the 
tools of a score of other crafts. The smith of fifty years ago 
stood at the cross-road leading to the modern world. His 
children have become the toolmakers, the die cutters, the 


1 82 


machinists of to-day. And while the modern mechanic's work 
is more difficult and exacting in some ways than was that of the 
smith, no ordinary mechanic of to-day has to have the extra- 
ordinary range of skill and knowledge that went into the daily 
tasks of the smiths. 

If we go back still another fifty years to about 1830 and look 
into a blacksmith shop of this earlier day we will find the smith 
at work at still other tasks. The smith of that time would prob- 
ably not have done so much carriage work as later smiths, 
although he, too, would have done some wheelmaking and 

waggon building. His chief 
work, however, would have 
been the making of tools 
and implements, pots and 
kettles, ploughs and hay- 
forks, sickles and scythes, 
axes and guns. These were 
the things needed in the 
frontier world, for in new 
worlds it is the farmer's 
tools and the hunter's arms 
that are the first necessi- 
ties. No one had time then 

to send back to the old world for such articles as these the 
village smith must make and mend them as best he could. 

Let us watch such a smith make an axe. Simple as it is, it calls 
for a whole range of skills. To make an axe a smith must shape 
the head, temper the iron, make and shape the steel of the 
cutting edge, sharpen and polish the blade and fashion the haft. 
In this blacksmith shop of 1830, the iron stock is made up 
of bar iron bought from some near-by furnace. By this time 
there were furnaces in every state from Massachusetts to South 
Carolina and as far west as Kentucky and Ohio, and these had 
turned out in that year one hundred and sixty-five thousand 
tons of pig iron and ninety-six thousand tons of bar iron. But 
if iron was plentiful steel was not. The Bessemer and open- 



hearth processes had not been developed in 1830. They were 
not, in fact, to come until more than twenty-five years later. 
In 1830 there were but fourteen steel furnaces in the United 
States, and these altogether produced but sixteen hundred tons 
of steel a year. This steel was made in crucibles or in small 
furnaces; it was scarce and very costly. 

For his first step towards making an axe our smith takes a 
piece of bar iron from his stock and works it over the anvil into 
a flat plate one half inch thick, four inches wide, and about 
eight inches long. The plate made, our smith heats the two 
ends in the forge and upsets these on the anvil until each has 
become about twice its original thickness. The centre of the 
plate is now heated and upset in turn until it is also about one 
inch thick. This centre band is to form the poll and the 
thickened edges will be worked into lips to hold the blade. 
The smith now places a mandrel across the raised centre band 
and turns the two wings around it until the edges almost meet. 
The shape of the mandrel is the shape of the shaft hole and 
when the two wings finally meet the shaft hole will be formed. 
Now the smith dresses the wing tips until they are curved and 
brought to their feather edges still kept a little apart. The poll 
is then shaped, squared, and made true on the shoulder of the 
anvil. The axehead is now ready for the cutting edge. 

Our smith knows as much about tempering iron and the 
colours of temper as we do to-day. He also knows how to 
make steel from wrought iron by working the metal on the 
anvil in the presence of carbon dust. For a strong, lasting, 
sharp-bladed axe our smith will make his cutting edge of a 
small, thin piece of steel set between the lips left open on 
the axehead. 

He may have a small stock of steel at hanj 
not he knows how to make what he neec 
one of two ways. He may place a bac^iftK^n, packed 
charcoal, in a closed retort and heat this ^5^ heat for s^jt^. 
days. During these days the iron lies/lajtf tfclR or recUhot 
carbon, but as the retort is closed and 4pQC\ caJj^nfer tt'ooes 



not burn. Instead the carbon enters gradually into the iron 
about one eighth of an inch each day until the whole bar has 
become steel. This is a slow and costly way of making steel, 
but the steel so made is superb. 

For greater quantities of steel our smith packs a small furnace 
with alternate layers of bar iron and powdered charcoal. Flues 
lead the blast through the furnace and the whole is covered 
with clay to prevent any air reaching the iron and carbon. The 



fire burns for eight to ten days, keeping the contents at red 
heat. Test bars are withdrawn from time to time to check the 
progress of the process. The steel so made is called blister steel. 
However his steel is made, our smith now works a bar of it 
into a thin sharp wedge which he inserts between the lips of 
the axehead and, bringing both parts to welding heat, he 
fastens it in place. The cutting edge is then dressed and 
tempered the tempering being done at the point of brownish* 


purple colour. The tempered blade is now sharpened first by 
use of freestone and then polished with wood, leather and 

The axehead finished, the smith now makes the haft. For 
this he selects a billet of well-seasoned, second-growth white 
hickory and shapes it with a drawknife on a bench. The Ameri- 
can axehaft of colonial days was the finest in the world. From 
the earliest days axe handles had always been straight, but some 
colonial American smith a toolmaker had designed the 
graceful curved axe haft that is still used. It is the perfect 
handle of a tool, being shaped exactly to fit the hand and give 
the arm the greatest power with the least effort. The handle 
made, our smith drives it into the shaft hole, wedging it in 
place with a thin metal wedge. With decent care, the axe we 
have seen made should last its owner a lifetime. 

Besides axes, the American smith of 1830 made scissors, 
shears, knives, household implements, ploughs and plough 
points for the farmer, hunting knives and guns for the hunter 
and the settler. In the frontier world the gun meant meat for 
the home and safety from marauders. In the older countries 
the gunsmiths' craft was an art in itself, and a man skilled in 
making firearms rarely made anything else. But in the villages 
and settlements of the New World the blacksmith made guns 
as he made axes, plough points and horseshoes whenever 
these were needed. 

The gun barrel was forged of bar iron on the anvil, a plate 
being first drawn from the bar and this turned around a mandrel 
until the edges met. These edges were welded together on a 
swage about two inches at a time. The finest gun-barrels were 
made in short lengths, each piece turned around a mandrel and 
then these short lengths welded together to form the barrel. 

The next step was that of twisting the barrel to knit the steel 
fibres together and to toughen the metal. The new-made barrel 
was heated on the mandrel and twisted bit by bit until the 
whole had become a strong, tough, compact tube. 

The barrel so made was now ready for boring. This was 


done by the use of bits, each succeeding bit being a little larger 
than the one which went before until the true calibre of the 
gun had been reached. Some, but not all, gun barrels were 
then grooved with a spiral groove which ran from the breech 
to the muzzle. The purpose of this groove was to make the 
rifle ball spin as it sped along its course and so keep a truer 
line of flight. Such, however, was the marksmanship of the 
frontier woodsmen that, even with the smooth-bore guns and 
round lead pellets, they could outshoot most of us to-day. 

The gun barrel made, the smith tested it with a load of 
powder equal to the weight of the ball. Next he made the 
sights, aligning them on the barrel. The trigger, trigger guard 
and firing mechanism followed, each part forged on the anvil 
and filed to final fit for assembling. 

Skill and workmanship show in every line of these early 
guns, but it seems to me the gunsmith lavished even more 
affection and care on the forearm and the stock. The wood of 
the black walnut has always been the most favoured American 
wood for gunstocks, but almond, apple, beech, wild cherry, 
holly, persimmon, plum and yew have also been used. The 
graceful curve of the gunstock was shaped with the drawknife 
and the spokeshave and when finished it was checkered at the 
grip points. Checkering was done with a small tool having 
two or three rows of teeth pointed and edged. With this tool 
the craftsman cut patterns on the stock and at the grip point 
of the forearm. Many of these patterns are so intricate they 
must have taken hours of patient work to execute, yet only one 
who was really interested would even notice them. You have 
no doubt often heard the expression: "Lock, stock and barrel" 
used to indicate the whole of anything. Lock, stock and barrel 
are the parts of a gun, and in the hands of the gunsmith these 
were made into things of grace and beauty. 

Pistol barrels were made in the same way as gun barrels. In 
earlier days pistols were very often made in pairs, and when 
this was done a single barrel was forged and then cut to form 
the two short barrels required. 


Bullets were made in bullet moulds or by dropping molten 
lead from a tower. The lead used was alloyed with a small 
amount of arsenic to give it greater hardness. Molten lead was 
poured into a pan in the bottom of which were a number of 
holes. As the lead seeped through these holes it would form a 
drop which in falling would become a ball. The shot towers 
were built high enough so that the falling balls of lead would 
have time to cool and harden during the downward drop. At 
the base of each tower was a trough of water into which the 
pellets fell. The water served to break the fall and finally to 
cool the lead. These balls were then gathered and rolled down 
an inclined board. Only those which rolled all the way to the 
bottom of the board were accepted for use. Any others that 
turned to one side or the other were remelted, being rejected 
as not perfectly round. It was such guns as we have seen and 
such bullets as these that were used in the War of Inde- 
pendence; and others very like them were still in use in the 
early days of the Civil War. 

If we go back to still earlier times, into the colonial days 
before the Revolutionary War, we will find the colonial smith 
busily engaged in making household tools and wares for his 
neighbours spits, kettles, waffle irons, drip pans and skillets 
for the kitchen; ploughs, hoes and sickles and flails for the 
farmer; axes, saws, hammers, chisels and nails for the carpenter 
and shipwright. 

Nail making alone had become an important task, especially 
in a newly settled country where so many buildings and houses, 
ships and bridges must be built. There were two kinds of nails 
made then cut nails and wrought nails. Wrought nails were 
forged from thin iron rods on the anvil, pointed and headed 
under the hammer. They were better than cut nails, being 
tougher and stronger, but they were slow and costly in the 
making. Almost every colonial farm family made their own 
wrought nails, cutting and shaping them in the winter even- 
ings, but this would not begin to fill the demand for nails. So 
great was the need of nails that a number of nail-making 


machines were invented and it was with such machines that 
cut nails were made. The first of these nail-making machines 
is said to have been made in Rhode Island by Jeremiah 
Wilkinson in 1777, and a few years later other machines were 
made. Cut nails were formed from bar iron which had been 
run through a grooved roller and so flattened into thin, narrow 
strips. These were then run through smooth rollers and cut 
into strips about three feet long. Heated to red heat these strips 


were passed under stamps which cut out a wedge-shaped nail 
blank which was then held between grips and headed. The first 
machines were not very successful, but early in the nineteenth 
century there were machines that could turn out two and 
three hundred nails a minute. 

Wire drawing and pin making were also tasks of the smith. 
Wire making had been known since prehistoric times gold, 
silver and bronze wire have been found in the ruins of Troy 
and in the burial places of Celtic chiefs, especially in Denmark 


and Ireland. Almost all of this ancient wire is flat, being really 
very flat, thin ribbons of metal. It was not commonly made by 
drawing. In the ruins of Troy, however, a jewel pierced with a 
small hole was found, and it is the belief of those who have 
seen it that this jewel was used as a drawplate in drawing wire. 
The Romans made bronze wire and even plaited it into cable. 
They also used iron wire in making chain mail. The simplest 
way to draw wire is to do this work by hand, first working the 
metal down to a thin pencil and then drawing this pencil 
through a small hole. Smaller and smaller holes are successively 
used until the wire has been pulled down to the required size. 
Done by hand, this must have been extremely hard work and 
quite early a wire-drawing bench was invented in which a lever 
or a windlass was used to pull the wire through the plate. 

In the fourteenth century Nuremberg was the most famous 
centre of wire making, but even as late as the sixteenth century 
wire was still made by hand in England. To-day wire is made 
in every size, from threads so thin you can barely see them to 
the great woven cables which support the Golden Gate Bridge, 
and all this wire is drawn, annealed, cleaned and coated in one 
continuous mechanical process. 

Curiously enough, while the early American smiths did not 
use wire in nail making as we do, they did use it in making pins. 
Pins were made from finely drawn wire which was cut into 
lengths, long enough to make six pins from each length. These 
pieces would be sharpened at the ends on a grindstone and a 
pin length cut off each end. What remained was again sharpened 
in the same way and again two pin lengths cut off. The last 
bit was sharpened and cut into two parts. 

The pinhead was formed by spinning a coil of this wire 
around a wire the size of a pin shank. This coil was cut every 
second turn by shears and these small coils fastened on the 
shank by a hammer worked by a foot pedal. Common pins 
were made of brass, and when pointed and headed these were 
thrown into a copper vessel filled with tin and the lees of wine. 
The tin would slowly leave this liquid and plate itself on the 


brass. The tin-coated pin was then polished by swirling it in 
a bowl of bran and the dry bran removed by winnowing. 
Pin making became, quite early, a separate craft not so much 
done by the smith as in small factories where children were 
employed to do the work. I have read that a boy of that time 
could sharpen sixteen thousand pin points in an hour, but I 
doubt that this is so. 

The first iron made in the American colony was produced in 
a furnace set up at Falling Creek, Virginia, by John Berkeley. 
It had been operating but a few years, however, when in 1622 
the furnace was destroyed and all the workmen massacred, 
only Berkeley's small son escaping. 

In 1645 "Eleven English Gentlemen" put up five thousand 
dollars towards the building of a furnace at Lynn, Mas- 
sachusetts. So great was the colonial need for iron that this 
plant was exempted from taxation, its workmen released from 
any military service, the land upon which the factory was built 
donated, and other privileges granted. In a short while other 
furnaces were built in other colonies. By the end of the century 
pig iron and bar iron produced in the colonies was being 
shipped to England. As the American furnaces grew in number 
rolling mills were built, tilt hammers installed and the pro- 
duction of tools and wares greatly increased. 

The English iron masters, seeing the colonial market slip- 
ping away from them, brought pressure on the government, 
and in 1750 a law was passed in England prohibiting any 
American iron maker from refining any more pig iron or 
making any further products from it. 

Pig iron might still be made in the colonies, but it could only 
be shipped to the Port of London. This law was intended to 
crush the rising iron industry of the colonies. The English iron 
masters hoped that through this law the colonial settler would 
be forced to buy all his tools and implements in England, for 
under such a law there could be no more rolling mills, no 
more tilt hammers, no more steelmaking in colonial America. 

But the colony refused to accept this and twenty-five years 


later the Declaration of Independence was signed, severing the 
rule of the mother country with her colony. 

In the earlier colonial days, before iron furnaces had become 
numerous, it had been necessary to send back to England for 
such tools and implements as were needed. From a letter 
written in 1645 by a settler in Massachusetts to her relatives in 
England we get some idea of the things that were wanted. She 
asked that she be sent "6 pewter porringers, a small stew pann 
of copper, a peare of brasse candlesticks, and a peare of silver 
candlesticks a brasse kittell, a skillet, and a few needles of 
different sizes, 6 table knives of ye beste steal with handles as 
may be also 3 large and 3 small silvern spoones and 6 of 
home." This lady must have been a person of wealth and 
importance in her day, for few colonial homes had such 
fine household goods. In colonial America wooden bowls, 
trenchers and noggins formed the table ware of most families; 
gourds were the drinking cups and clam shells set in the cleft 
of a stick served as spoons. Even in England table knives were 
scarce and table forks had only been known since the days of 
James I. In France in these days a gentleman upon being in- 
vited out to dine would send his knife ahead of him by a 
servant to the house of his host or carry it with him in his 

X. Makers of Tools and Arms 

IT was in the seventeenth century, and especially in England, 
that the modern world of commerce and trade began. 
Paris, London, Vienna and Amsterdam were the great cities of 
Europe then, and they held their position because they were 
the market-places of the world to which the goods of every 
land flowed in. In England, France and Holland, great trading 
companies were organized to send out fleets of ships and 
armies of men to explore the world and to carry the. products 
of Europe to foreign lands and bring back timber, tar and wax 
from the Baltic; spices and pepper from the East; ivory from 
Africa; silk from China and furs from North America. 

These were stirring times filled with invention and change. 
Newton and Boyle made experiments and laid the foundation 
of the modern sciences of physics and chemistry. Shakespeare 
and Cervantes wrote books and plays that are still read; Galileo 
invented the telescope and Harvey discovered the circulation 
of the blood; Savery and Newcomen were working on the first 
steam engine; Vauban created the modern army and El Greco 
and Rembrandt painted their immortal pictures. 

It was in the seventeenth century that post roads were built 
so that folk now got about more saw what others did and 
how they lived learned that there was a greater world outside 
their own small villages. It was a period of new ideas. 

Of all the changes and new ideas that came into use in this 
age perhaps the most important to us was the factory. Factories 
had been known in ancient times there had been brick fac- 
tories in Babylon and papyrus factories in Egypt. There was a 
sword factory in Athens, and Carthage was noted for its 
factories that made perfumes and dyes. Although there had 
been but few factories in the city of Rome itself there were 
scores of them scattered throughout Italy and even in remote 
parts of the empire factories making arms and armour, linen 







cloth and pottery. But the factory method of working had 
fallen into disuse during the Middle Ages. During that long 
period almost all kinds of work were done by craftsmen 
belonging to guilds. The guild craftsmen worked in small shops 
a master and a few journeymen plying their trade together. 
They usually made articles only after receiving an order for 
them each article being designed and wrought exactly accord- 
ing to the wishes of the buyer. 


There were fairs and markets, especially in the great towns 
and cities, and to these the craftsmen took their wares, but in 
them it was the craftsman himself who sold his goods. The day 
of the merchant had not yet come. 

Just when and where the modern world of commerce and 
trade began we do not know probably it was in Italy and 
especially in the city of Florence. We find the records of a great 
number of craft guilds in this city as early as the eleventh 
century butchers, bakers, weavers, dyers, smiths and car- 
penters almost every conceivable trade had its company of 
fellow workmen. These were all working trades; that is, the 
artisans themselves made the wares they sold. But almost a 


century later we see the rise of the merchant guilds buyers and 
sellers of goods. The great guilds of the thirteenth century in 
Florence were not the metalworkers and masons but the money 
changers, the sellers of silk, woollen and linen cloths, the 
merchants of skins and furs. 

Something of the same thing happened in France as well, and 
here we find the Six Companies gold dealers, silk merchants, 
grocers, drug sellers, serge merchants and ironware dealers. 
These were merchant companies rather than workmen guilds. 
In England there were the Twelve Great Companies of the 
City grocers, mercers, drapers, fishmongers, skinners, haber- 
dashers, salt merchants, wine sellers, ironware dealers and 
cloth sellers. 

All these merchant companies needed goods and wares to 
sell. The older craftsmen's guilds that made but a few tools, 
implements or lengths of cloth at a time could not possibly 
keep up with the demand. It was the great growth of trade 
in the expanding world of the seventeenth century that brought 
back the factory. 

In the poem, "The Pleasant History of Jack Newberry," 
there is a description of one of these early factories. 

Within one roome^ being large and long 

There stood two hundred Looms full strong. 

Two hundred men^ the truth is so 

Wrought in these Loowes all in a row. 

By every one a pretty boy 

Sate making quilts with micklejoy y 

And in another place hard by 

A. hundred women merily 

Were carding hard with joyful cheere 

Who singing sate with voyces cleere^ 

And in a chamber close beside 

Two hundred maidens did abide y 

In petticoats of Stammell red 

And milk-white kerchers on their head. 

Their smocke-sleeves like to winter snow 

That on the Westerne momtaines flow, 

And each sleeve with a silken band 

Wasfeatly tied at the hand. 


These pretty maids did never lin 
But in that place all day did spin, 
And spinning so with voyces meet 
Like nightingales they sang full sweet. 

The poet makes the scene gay and cheerful maidens in 
"petticoats of Stammell red" singing with voices like nightin- 
gales full sweet. But as we go on in the poem we come to 
another scene: 

Then to another roome came they 
Where children were in poore aray; 
And every one sate picking wool 
The finest from the course to cull: 
The number was seven score and ten, 
The children of poore silly men: 
And these their labors to requite 
Had every one a penny at night , 
Beside their meat and drinke all day. 
Which was to them a wondrous stay. 

Not only had the factory come but child labour and the sweat 
shop were on their way! 

But for all the peaceful scenes of workers in the weaving 
sheds and the busy commerce in the towns the great industry 
of the seventeenth century was war. Only four years out of one 
hundred saw peace in Europe; in all the rest a major war was 
being waged somewhere on the continent. 

War by this time had become a savage and terrible thing. It 
was no longer a gay joust between knights as had been the 
wars of the Black Prince, Swedish Gustavus Adolphus, the 
Lion of the North; Cromwell, in England; Vauban in France 
led armies that had been trained and disciplined; armies that 
fought with guns and artillery. The crossbow had replaced 
the longbow and then in turn had been superseded by the 
arbalest and the matchlock musket. Just now the flintlock, 
invented in France, was coming into use. Cannon became more 
and more common. They were dragged into battle on wheels. 
They formed the armament of ships and Vauban used them 
in the great forts he built. With so much war and rumours of 


war it is not to be wondered at that the chief products of the 
metalworker of this time were arms and armament. 

The early cannons were cast in brass or bronze. They were 
short and heavy and fired stones for shells. As early as Edward 
III in England a cannon was made "of iron bars joined 
together . . . and strengthened by ... hoops of iron." In 
Europe some cast-iron cannon and cannon balls were made 
at this time but brass and bronze were still the chief metals 


used. The art of casting iron was not to become common until 
the invention of the hot-blast furnace a hundred years later. 

The making of arms and guns in England under Charles I 
had become such an important craft that the armourer's guild 
was directed by law to inspect and try all guns made and to 
approve their fitness. 

And because divers cutlers, smiths, tinkers and other botchers 
of arms by their unskilfulness have utterly spoiled many arms, 
armours, guns, pykes, and bandoliers we do prohibit that no person 
or persons whatever not having served seven years or been brought 
up as an apprentice ... in the trade and mysterie of an armourer, 



gun maker, pyke maker, or bandolier maker ... do make, alter, 
change, dress, repair, prove or stamp any arms, armours, guns, 
pykes or bandolier. 

Cannon, bombards, mortars, flintlocks, pikes, longbow, 
crossbow, arbalest how many scores of kinds of weapons and 
military machines have been made by the armourer and the 
smith! The drawings of a few of these are shown, but these 
give but glimpses of the vast variety of arms that have served 
the soldiers of all periods. The story of the armourer and his 

craft is one of the most 
interesting tales in the whole 
history of work, but it is far 
too long to be told here 
that I will do at another 
time and in another book. 
Meanwhile let us stop by 
the forge of one of the great 
ironworkers of all times the 
shop of Mathurin Joussewho 
lived and worked in France 
in the seventeenth century. 

Of the events in the life 
of Master Jousse we know 
little, but of his work and 
his character we may learn a 
great deal. Carpenter, iron- 
worker, inventor, scholar, 
but above all else locksmith Jousse was the first man to 
put down in writing a full, clear account of the work of the 
smith. As you read his quaint old French, Jousse himself 
becomes a very real and living person a man who truly 
loved and knew his craft. 

He explains how he came to write his book, saying that he, 
a metalworker, unaccustomed to the world of letters, would 
never have undertaken such a task except that it so grieved him 
to see the knowledge and experience of a lifetime die with 



the craftsman and leave nothing to be passed on to pos- 

He speaks of Biscornet and points out how great was his 
skill, how deep his knowledge of his craft. Yet Biscornet, says 
Jousse, left no record of his experience, no guide to later smiths 




as to how he produced his marvellous work. To Jousse it 
seemed wicked a loss to France and to all metal craftsmen 
that men should be content to practise their art without 
thought of passing on the fruits of their knowledge to other 




Almost in apology he says, "I would not have presumed to 
write this book except that it might induce other artisans to 
contribute in their turn what they may have learned of this 
noble craft." 


The book needs no apology through simple, clear and 
exact language Jousse explains each step of a metal craftsman's 
work, setting down his text with the same patience and wise 
care he would have used in forging and filing a lock and key. 



He describes the fire and the tools and tells how to heat iron 
without burning it. "Do not allow your iron to come too near 
the bellows nozzle lest it be not heated enough or heated too 
much or heated in two places at once." You can almost see him 
at his forge peering into the fire, watching the iron tense and 
ready to swing it on to the anvil at exactly the right moment. 
"Work your bellows with easy, short strokes so as not to make 

too sudden or too strong a 
blast listen to the little 
sound in the fire to know 
when the iron is ready." 

He talks about the life of 
a smith, tells of some of the 
hardships, the burning eyes, 
the long, hard labour, the 
tired feet from standing 
hour on hour at the anvil. 
He tells a boy who wants to 
become an apprentice to try 
the work awhile before 
deciding to enter the craft 
"Better to know the hard- 
ships in advance than to em- 
brace a life you will live 
coldly or a work you will 
quit in disgust." Jousse 
wanted no boys in his shop 
who would work halfheartedly. No one knew better than he 
the tedious hours of filing and the hard labour of forging iron, 
but he loved his craft with a very deep and ennobling love. 

Above all things made by the smith of his day he most 
admired locks and keys. He describes the different kinds of 
lock known in his time and tells how they were made. 

In making a lock the key was always wrought first. The 
smith took a piece of iron about as big around as one's thumb 
and three inches long. This was brought to red heat and the 



key bit formed at the centre, the bow at the outer end. The 
stem was then shaped and the bow pierced to form the ring. 
A good workman, says Jousse, could complete all this in a 
single heat. 

The rough-formed key was now cut off from the remaining 
iron; the shoulder turned and the bit web fashioned and 

If the key was to have a ball tip at the bit end of the stem 
this was now turned and shaped. On the other hand, it was the 
more common practice, especially on fine keys, to have the key 
stem broached. In the locks 
of that time a pin was set in 
the exact centre of the key- 
hole and the broach in the 
key stem was designed to fit 
snugly over this pin, which 
then served to hold the key 
straight and true as it was 
turned in the lock. Most 
locks in those days were designed to be opened from one side 
of a door only. 

The broach was made by use of the mandrel and the drill; 
the mandrel being a slender, tapered punch and the drill a bow 
drill having a drill cap which was rested against the stomach. 

The broach was sometimes left round as it came from the 
drill and the tapered punch, but more often and especially in 
fine locks it was given complicated shapes such as a star, a 
triangle, fleur-de-lis or the like. Whatever the shape of the 
broach the pin must be made to fit exactly into it, and this was 
the reason for these complicated shapes, since the more com- 
plex the broach and pin, the more difficult it was for anyone 
to use any but the proper key to open a lock. 

To change the round hole into any of these shapes, delicate 
mandrels of special pattern and size were used. They were 
driven slowly and carefully into the round broach and gradually 
changed it into the new shape desired. This was a very exacting 




part of the work. The mandrels, though hard, were slender and 
light and might easily break offin the stem. The steel of which 
these mandrels were made was as hard or harder than any of 
the drills in the shop of the smith, so if such an accident 
occurred he could not drill out the broken mandrel tip; and 


this might well mean the loss of all the smith's labour that had 
already gone into forming the key. To avoid such a chance, 
Jousse advised the smith to place a little gunpowder in the 
bottom of the stem, covering it with a layer of lead. Then 
should a mandrel break off in the stem, the broken end could 
be shot out by exploding the powder. I have no doubt this 


trick saved many a smith the need of remaking a key, but just 
the same I would hesitate to work with my head bent down 
close over a vice hammering sharp-pointed mandrels into a key 
stem which had a powder charge in its base! 

The bow, stem and broach now made, the next step is to 
shape the bit so that it will pass the wards in the lock. The 
wards are shaped pieces of steel set in the path through which 
the key must turn before it can shoot the bolt. They are made 
in a variety of forms, some acting on the nose of the bit, others 
acting against the bit edges. Whatever their shape the key must 
be so cut that it may pass these wards. The shaping of the bit 
is done with files straight files curved files files almost as 
thin as a piece of paper. The key bit is blackened in candle- 
smoke and the cuts marked on it with a scribe. 

When you see how delicate and intricate were some of the 
keys of Jousse's day you marvel at the patience and skill that 
could fashion them keys having bits cut into scores of 
slender teeth, or into designs and patterns, letters, numbers and 
symbols of their owner's estate. It took weeks and months to 
make some of these marvellous keys, and yet when chased and 
polished the work was only half done, for the lock was still to 
be made. Some day when you take a key to your locksmith to 
have a duplicate made and watch him place your key in one 
part of a machine and a key blank in another and then by 
simply pressing on a switch cause a perfect copy of your key 
to be made in less than a minute, remember the keys of 
Mathurin Jousse and something of the work that went into 
making them. 

As we follow the work of the smith further and further back 
into the past the articles made in the blacksmith shop become 
heavier and coarser. In the early Middle Ages there was neither 
need nor time to do such work as was done by Jousse and his 
fellow craftsmen. The hinges of the great doors of the castle, 
the bands that bound the treasure chests needed no such fine, 
delicate work as this. Yet while those products of the forge 
of earlier days were not delicate they were very beautiful no 


more superb iron work has ever been done than Biscornet's 
hinges on the doors of Notre Dame of Paris. A mass of 
intricate scrolls and leaves swirling and interlacing, they form 
an exquisite pattern against the cathedral doors. 

The smiths of earlier days made grilles and gates, draw- 
bridge chains, ploughs and tools; but more than any of these 


they made the arms and armour of kings and knights and 

There could be seen the Iron Charles helmed with an iron helm; 
his iron breast and his broad shoulders defended by an iron breast- 
plate; an iron spear raised in his left hand, his right always rested 
on his unconquered falchion. 

The thighs, which with most men are uncovered (that they may 
the more easily ride on horseback), were in his case clad with plates 
of iron: I need make no special mention of his greaves, for the 
greaves of all the army were of iron. His shield was of iron, his 
charger was iron-coloured and iron-hearted. 

The fields were filled with iron. A people stronger than iron paid 
universal homage to the strength of iron. The horror of the dungeon 
seemed less than the bright gleam of iron. 

Oh, Iron, woe for the iron, was the cry of the citizens. The walls 
shook at the sight of iron. The resolution of the old and young fell 
before iron. 


So wrote the Monk of St. Gall a thousand years ago of his 
lord and emperor, Charlemagne. 

The world of that day 
must indeed have seemed 
to be encompassed in 
iron. Beside the emperor 
and the kings, every 
baron and overlord main- 
tained armies of men-at- 
arms in their castles. 
Even bishops of the 
Church had troops at 
their command. In a 
world of endless strife 
and warfare there was 
need of all this arma- 
ment. Towns and castles 
were surrounded by walls 
and moats; only the small 
villages and the open 
countryside were unpro- 
tected; and while the 
towns and castles might 
withstand the siege of 
attacking troops, the vil- 
lages and farming land 
could not. Moving armies 
lived off the country 
through which they 
passed. The fields and 
vineyards of the farmer; 
the flocks and droves of 
the shepherd and the 
herdsman; the shops of 
the village craftsmen; 
each paid toll to every FRENCH ARMOUR 


passing band of men-at-arms. Indeed, the fields must have 
seemed to be filled with iron for the peasant, and the craftsman, 
bearing no arms and unprotected by any armour, could make 
no stand against men who were covered from head to foot in 
mail and who bore weapons in their hands. Is it any wonder 
that "the resolution of the old and young fell before iron," or 
that these folk, despoiled of the increase of their labour, could 
only cry out: "Oh, Iron, woe for the iron!" 

There was need of many smiths, in those days, to make the 
arms and armour of all these troops of warriors. Every castle 
had its own blacksmith shop where the smith and his helpers 


repaired the broken weapons of their masters or made new 
swords and shields, helmets and armour to replace those lost 
in battle. 

When there was peace the smiths made spits for the hearth, 
pots and kettles for the kitchen, ploughs and pruning hooks 
for the farmer, locks and keys, chests and chains for the manor 
house and castle; but there was little peace; the chief work of 
the smith was making arms. 

In Charlemagne's day the high furnace had not yet been 
invented, nor were there any water-wheels to work the bellows 
or to trip the tilt hammer at the forge. All the iron used had 
to be smelted at low furnaces which were little better than those 
of ancient Spain, and the blooms were worked into bars and 
shapes on the anvil under the hammer. 

The armour worn by Charlemagne seems, from its descrip- 
tion, to have been plate armour, but the more common armour 


of that time was mail. Chain mail was made up of thousands 
of small rings of iron linked and welded together to form a 
metal cloth which was at once strong enough to withstand 


heavy blows and yet was pliant enough to permit the wearer 
to move about. 

It took great skill to make such mail. Each separate link must 
be wrought on the anvil, shaped, and then joined to other links. 
Heavy iron bars were first worked down into slender rods and 
these in turn further reduced to thin strands of metal which 


was cut or welded to form mail. How well this was done we 
learn from old tales of mail that, though light and pliable, was 
yet able to resist the blows of sword and mace. We hear, too, 
of swords that were famous for their strength and keenness. 
Some of their names still live in history. "Joyeuse," the sword 
of Charlemagne, was one of these. 

You may wonder that chain mail was not made from iron 
wire. The art of wire drawing had been known in Roman times 
and it was certainly practised in the Middle Ages. Iron when 
drawn into wire must be annealed after every two or three re- 
ductions in size if it is to retain its strength, and even so it is not 
as tough and strong as iron worked down into links on the 
anvil. Some chain mail of the early Middle Ages may have been 
made of iron wire which had not been properly heat treated. 
Whatever the cause, not all chain mail was well made, for we 
read in some of the old tales of chain mail failing its wearer in 

The ring-linked coat of strongest mall 
Could not withstand the iron hail, 
Though sewed with care and elbow bent 
By Norna, on its strength intent 
The fire of battle raged round 
Odin's steel shirt flew all unbound! 
The earl his ring-mail from him flung 
Part of it fell into the sea 
A part was kept, a proof to be 
How sharp and thick the arrow-flight 
Among the sea-steeds in their fight! 

So goes King Olaf Trygvesson's saga. 

But if the workmanship on the arms and armour of most 
periods was usually skilled and exact, that on tools and locks, 
ploughs and implements was not always so well and carefully 
done. We will find this to be quite generally true as we go back 
into the history of metalwork. For while there were some 
periods in ancient times when the tools and implements of 
peace were superbly made, there were other times when this 
was not the case. There were, however, almost no periods when 


the arms and weapons of the warrior did not receive the greatest 
skill and workmanship of the metalworker and the smith. 

As we go further and further back in time we find, too, more 
and more bronze in use and less and less iron. As we approach 
the days of Rome these metals divided between them the fields 
of arms and tools and implements. Sometimes the arms of the 
Roman armies were made of iron, sometimes bronze was used. 
In the great days of Rome, the days of the soldier emperors, 
Roman arms were almost entirely made of iron, but in the late 
days of the empire, as the strength of Rome began to fade, 
bronze, to a large extent, re- 
placed iron for weapons be- 
cause it was easier to work. 
Just as the arms were then 
less well made so was the 
army less well trained. 

The lack of discipline [says 
Vegetius] and of proper exercise 
made the Roman soldiers less 
able and less willing to bear the 
fatigues of service. They com- 
plained of the weight of their 
armour, which they seldom 
wore. They received permis- 
sion to lay aside their breast- 
plates and their helmets. The heavy weapons of their ancestors, 
the short sword and the terrible Roman spear which had con- 
quered the world, slipped from their feeble hands, and thus 
badly armed without shields, helmet or breastplate the troops 
marched reluctantly into battle where they must suffer either the 
pain of wounds or the shame of defeat. 

What a far cry was that ragged, undisciplined army of the 
dying empire from the legions of the great captains of earlier 
daysl The soldiers of Caesar, Trajan, Germanicus and Con- 
stantine would never have acknowledged these as their suc- 
cessors. In the heyday of Roman arms a soldier carried a large, 
heavy shield, a short thick Spanish sword, two spears (one for 




thrusting and one for throwing); the head was protected by a 
helmet, the body by bands of metal, the legs by greaves. Bear- 
ing such a weight of metal 
the Roman legionnaires 
marched from end to end 
of the ancient world suffer- 
ing with equal indifference 
the heats of Africa and the 
colds of northern Europe. 
There was need in those 
days that the Roman 
troops be well equipped 
and trained, for they 
fought against armies quite 
as courageous and rugged 
as they were themselves. 
The Britons, Gauls and 
Germans lacked only the 
superior leadership and the 
arms of Rome to have re- 
mained unconquered. 

In armies of the great 
generals there were prob- 
ably more foreign troops 
than actual Romans, but 
these armies were almost 
always led and trained by 
Roman officers. We read 
of a battle between the 
Britons and a Roman 

The Britons were armed 
with huge swords and small 
shields they quite eluded 
our spears or beat them off, 
ROMAN ARMOUR meanwhile pouring a torrent 


of their own missiles on our troops. The Roman commander, 
seeing defeat at hand, ordered his foreign regiments to engage 
the Britons hand to hand, a method of fighting at which they 
had been especially trained. This close attack avoided the rain 
of British spears, and the Roman tools, by grappling with the 
enemy, made the long, heavy, blunt swords of the Britons ineffec- 
tive. Engaged in close encounter, the German and Gaulish soldiers 
plied their short Roman swords with rapid blows and drove the 
sharp bosses of their shields into the Britons' faces, mangling them 
and bearing down all who stood before them. 

How many hundreds of battles of Roman days must have been 
won by Rome in this way foreign troops bearing Roman 
arms, trained and led by Roman officers, defeating troops as 
brave as they but troops less well armed and led. 

Through nearly four centuries Rome maintained armies in 
Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Egypt and in the Near Eastern 
countries. How great a need 
of arms and armour there 
was then! I believe it would 
be safe to say that through 
all this period by far the 
greater part of all bronze 
and iron smelted and 
wrought went into weapons 
rather than into tools and 

But if the Roman smith 
and metalworker spent the 
greater part of his time in 
the craft of the armourer he 
was skilled as well in the 
arts of peace. The Roman 
plough was partly made of 
metal the share and colter 
being made of bronze or 
iron as were sometimes the 
wheels as well. The tools ARMS OF GAUL 



of the carpenter, mason, miner and smith the razors of the 
barber and the shears of the tailor were of metal, sometimes 

bronze, sometimes iron or 
steel, but in either case 
usually well cast or wrought. 
In the ruins of Pompeii scores 
of tools and implements 
were found. When we look 
at these in their cases in 
museums to-day they seem 
impersonal things, but those 
razors once shaved men or 
lanced boils. Those locks 
once guarded someone's 
little store of precious things; 
in those pots and pans food 
was once prepared. They are 
very real things; a closer 
link between us and the 
peoples of the past than any- 
thing words can tell you. 

Some are made of bronze, 
some of iron or steel. Steel 
was not common but it was 
used, some coming from 
India and some from Porus 
on the Black Sea. Although 
the Romans did not know 
how to make steel as we do 
they knew a good deal about 
iron. They knew, for in- 
WARRIOR OF GAUL stance, that certain kinds 

of iron are magnetic. 

Pliny tells of one of the Ptolemys, a Pharaoh of Egypt, 
who wished to build a tomb for his sister. This tomb was 
to be made of magnetic ironstone so that it would hold an 


iron statue of the princess suspended in air. Dimochais, as 
architect, began the construction of this tomb, building a vault 
of magnetic stone surrounding the statue, believing that the 
vault would attract the iron figure equally from all sides and so 
hold it floating in the air. The project was never completed as 
the Pharaoh died during its construction. It is as well for Dimo- 
chais that this happened, for he would most certainly have 
failed in his commission. Magnetic ironstone will attract certain 
kinds of iron but not cast iron, and failure to carry out a 
Pharaoh's wish would almost certainly have cost an architect 
his head. 

Some smiths of Roman days knew a great deal about iron; 
they knew how to smelt it from its ores, how to temper wrought 
iron in water, how to weld or rivet iron parts together. Some 
knew the magnetic quality of pure iron, and others had learned 
to make steel from iron by cementation. A few metal makers 
even knew how to cast iron in moulds, but this knowledge was 
rarely used. 

Not all Roman smiths, however, knew all these things if 
they had, iron would have entirely replaced bronze long before 
it finally did but iron was becoming more and more common 
in the Roman world and even in the latter part of the Greek 
world that preceded the days of Rome. We place both the 
Roman and Greek periods in the Iron Age, yet it would be a 
mistake to think that iron was even then as commonly used as 

Of bronze the Roman and Greek metalworkers knew quite 
as much as we do. They made bronze of tin and copper, adding 
other metals to the alloy to make it serve special purposes. They 
cast bronze in stone and clay moulds and used wax models in 
lost-wax casting. Their workmanship in bronze was as fine as 
any done by metalworkers since that time. 

The Greeks knew iron as well as bronze and how to work 
with it, but they used fewer iron tools and weapons than did the 
Romans. Aristotle, a Greek writer, says: "The best and hardest 
of all kinds of iron is one made by the Chalybians, being 




obtained from iron by melt- 
ing it repeatedly with certain 
kinds of stones in a furnace 
a process which produced 
much slag and which caused 
a great loss in metal, on 
which account it was very 
costly." He speaks of the iron so made as "steel," and says 
it "is very tyrd, with a glittering surface, and it resists rust; but 
such metal is not suitable to all purposes for which less pure 
iron is used. The quality of 'steel' is judged by the sound given 
forth when it is struck on the anvil." Aristotle may have been 
describing the natural steel produced from ores found in the 
Black Sea region, and if so his description was fairly accurate. 
The Greeks, however, had very little steel. Some ironwork was 
done in each of the Greek states, but the most famous Greek 
smiths came from Laconia which was ruled over by the city of 

There is a story told of the Spartans that concerns a smith. It 
appears that they had been long at war with their neighbours, 
the Tegeans, and had met with nothing but defeat. Finally they 
sent to Delphi to ask the oracle what God they must propitiate 
in order to prevail against the Tegeans. They were told that 
they must remove to Sparta the bones of Orestes, son of Aga- 
memnon. Unable to discover his burial place they returned 
again and asked where the body of the hero had been laid. The 
oracle answered that the bones of Orestes lay "where two winds 
ever blow and stroke falls 
upon counter stroke and evil 
above lies upon evil below." 
The Spartans, however, were 
now no better off than they 
had been before, but they 
continued their search dili- 
gently until at last the 
burial place was found by a GREEK SMITH 


man named Lichas. Lichas, being in the city of Tega and hap- 
pening to enter a blacksmith shop, marvelled at what he beheld, 
for he had never seen a smith at work before. The smith, seeing 
his wonder, paused in his work and said: "Certainly, then, you 
Spartan stranger, you would have been wonderfully surprised 
if you had seen what I have seen, since you make marvel even 
of the working in iron. I wanted to make a well in this room, 
and began to dig it when, what think you? I came upon a coffin 
seven cubits long. I had never believed that men were taller in 
the olden times than they are now, so I opened the coffin. The 


body inside was of the same length. I measured it and filled up 
the hole again:" 

Lichas, turning this story over in his mind, believed these to 
be the bones of Orestes, for in the smithy there were two bel- 
lows that would be the two winds. The hammer and the anvil 
made stroke on counter stroke. The iron, itself, lay upon an 
iron anvil, and since Lichas thought iron "an evil thing, dis- 
covered to the hurt of man/' this would complete the oracle by 
being "evil above lying upon evil below." 

Convinced now that the words of the oracle were fulfilled, 
Lichas by trickery secured entrance to the house of the smith 


and stealing the bones of Orestes he hastened back to Sparta. 
Thereafter, the tale goes, "whenever the Spartans and the 
Tegeans made trial of each other's skill in arms, the Spartans 
always had greatly the advantage." 

This account is interesting for more things than the story 
itself, for it seems to me to be the roundabout Greek way of say- 
ing that the Spartans learned the arts of ironworking from the 
Tegeans and thereafter became famous for the ironwork done 


in Laconia. Throughout most of Greek history the Spartan 
armies were superior to those of any other Greek state, and this 
may well have been because the Spartan arms and armour were 
made of iron. 

Although iron was used in ancient Greek times it was by no 
means common in Greece itself, and in other places it was quite 
rare. Diodorus says that he knew of an Arabian tribe whose 
people "exchange weight for weight the gold which they get 


from their mines for the copper and iron which they lack." 
Another Greek writer tells of another country where the people 
"had no iron of their own and no one brought them any 
because of all the peoples who inhabited these parts they had 
the least commerce." 

Iron was well known in China as early as the seventh century 
B.C. We read of a tax on salt and iron. Of iron the king's advisers 
said: "The officials in charge of the iron works had reported 


that every woman in the country must have a needle and a 
knife; that every field labourer must have a plough and spade, a 
cooking pan, a cart and a hatchet. All these being necessities of 
life a tax upon them would be a regular source of public 
revenue." Such a proposal would certainly seem to indicate 
widespread use of iron in China more so, I think, than was 
the case in Europe at this time. It is interesting, too, that iron 
needles should be mentioned. These would almost certainly 


have been made of steel rather than wrought iron. The earliest 
that really good steel needles were to be made in Europe was 
about a thousand years later than this. 

The ancient Egyptians were not great users of iron. The 
peoples of the Nile Valley had been among the first makers and 
users of metal tools, but these they made of copper and bronze, 
and for some reason the Egyptians seem to have been reluctant 
to change to iron. This is the more strange since it has been said 
that the Negro neighbours of the ancient Egyptians were among 
the first users of iron. This has not as yet been proved definitely, 


but we have many accounts in later days of superb ironwork 
among the Negroes of Africa. When Dr. Livingstone pene- 
trated into the interior of the continent he found iron in 
common use. And of the tribes he met there, the Zambezi not 
only made iron articles but apparently made better iron tools 
and weapons than were the wares offered them in trade, for 
these they refused to accept. 

It may have been that the Egyptians did not have so great a 
need of iron as did their neighbours. The soil of the Nile is so 
light and soft it needs but little ploughing; the great building 
periods of Egypt occurred before the coming of iron; and finally 
the Egyptians were not a very warlike people they were fairly 
safe in their valley protected by deserts and mountains, and so 
they may not have had as great need of fine weapons as did 


most other ancient peoples. Whatever the reason it seems cer- 
tain that the Iron Age did not begin as early in Egypt as it did 
in other parts of the ancient world. 

To the north and east of Egypt in Asia Minor there lived a 
people who were well acquainted with iron. They were the 
Phoenicians. There is a story told of an Egyptian courier who 
was sent into that country by his master, the Pharaoh Rameses II. 
One night while he slept he was set upon by thieves who 
stole his bow and quiver of arrows from his side, cut off his 
armour in the darkness, stampeded his pair of horses and broke 


his chariot into pieces. In such dire straits the Egyptian 
appealed to the king of that country, complaining that a messen- 
ger of the great Pharaoh should be so treated. The king ordered 
the damage to be repaired at once, and we may read in a letter 
written by this messenger to his royal master the account of 
how this was done. 

The ironworkers enter the smithy, they rummage in the work- 
shops of the carpenters; the handicraftsmen and saddlers are at 
hand, they do all they are requested; they put together the chariot, 
they put aside the parts of it that are useless; the spokes are fashioned 
quite new; the wheels are put on; they put the straps on the axles 
and on the hinder parts; they splice the yolk; they put the box on 
the chariot; the workmen forge the iron parts; they put the ring 
that is wanting on the whip and replace the lashes on it. 


How little different was this shop and the work done in it 
from a blacksmith's shop of our own father's time! 

The Phoenicians were celebrated for their ironwork, and they 
numbered among their greatest heroes two brothers who had 
discovered iron and the way to treat it. They knew well the 
value and importance of iron, and once, when one of their cities 
was about to fall before the attack of the Persians, the citizens 
brought away all that was left there of iron and, throwing it into 
the sea, said: "We will not return to our city until this iron 
returns from the sea." 

The general use of iron began about the time of the Trojan 
War. At first it served chiefly for crude tools and farming 
implements rather than for fine tools and arms. When Achilles 
offered a large quantity of iron as a prize to be given to the 
winner of the games held in honour of his dead friend, Patroclus, 
he said: "It is enough iron that any farmer who might gain the 
prize need not go to town for more iron for at least five years." 

Before the beginning of the Iron Age, the metal used through- 
out the ancient world for arms and implements was bronze. It 
was during this three-thousand-year-long Bronze Age that there 
arose and passed the great empires of Sumer, Babylon, Egypt 
and Crete. Whole nations and vast cities flourished then that 
have since disappeared utterly from the earth, leaving little or 
no record of their laws, their language or their customs. But the 
tools, the weapons and the ornaments of the Etrurians remain 
as do those of the Swiss lake folk and the dwellers in the Danube 
Valley. Horns and helmets, swords and knives, even furniture 
and mirrors have been found in the tombs of Bronze Age 
peoples, or in the ruins of their cities, and these give some ink- 
ling of their makers' lives. At least they show us how fine was 
the craftsmanship of the early smith and how great was his 
knowledge of metals. 

The Bronze Age, which saw the beginning of metal tools, 
saw also the invention of writing and wheels, the establishment 
of governments and laws. Commerce and trade began, and the 
foundations of civilization, as we know it, were laid. 


Before the discovery of bronze there was a brief period when 
copper was used for tools and weapons, particularly among the 
Egyptians. The wave of copper use spread eastward through 
India and China and eventually crossed the Pacific Ocean to 
North and South America. But almost immediately after the use 
of copper began, another wave started spreading eastward and 
westward from Mesopotamia and Egypt the wave of bronze 
tools. In almost every part of the world the new art of bronze 
casting drove out the use of copper, and bronze implements 
and arms began almost at once to replace those made of copper. 
The strange exception to this, however, occurred in the 
Americas, for there seems to have been a break in the contact 
between the Old World and the New sometime soon after the 
use of copper began, for here there was never any Bronze Age 
at all and even the use of copper was very limited. The civiliza- 
tions of Mexico and Peru passed almost directly from the Stone 
Age to that of Iron, after the discovery of the New World by 

In the older world in Europe, Africa and Asia, we come upon 
the earliest use of tools in the long, long Stone Age which pre- 
ceded the discovery of copper and bronze; an age in which 
mankind first began to fashion his implements from bone and 
horn, shell and stone; an age which seems so remote from us as 
to be almost unbelievable. 

As we look backward down the tremendously long corridor 
of time which separates our day from the first crude beginning 
of tools, we feel a deep sense of wonder and awe as we see all 
that has been done since then to make our world what it is 

In this book we have seen some of the discoveries and 
changes that have made this possible. Together we have 
watched the mining and smelting of ores, the building of 
furnaces and the invention of new ways by which metals are 
wrought or cast into tools. 

As we watch the work of the miner and the smith, the 
armourer and the toolmaker through all the ages, and as we see 



them in their shops at the never-ending labour through which 
our world has been built and changed and improved, I think 
we may say with Master Jousse: 

"I may truly say that of all the mechanic arts there is not 
a single one which can compare with that of the iron A 
worker, for our work is useful and necessary. The invention 
of our craft is so ancient that it seems to have taken place { 
at the very birth of the Universe." * 

Or we may go still further back into the past and read this 
inscription on an Egyptian temple wall: 

*>\*<'?'^V^Ti ""' : -"'^r -t?/>-**V i f ?:*''* y '"'