Monday, June 12, 2017

Early Craftsmen and Craftswomen

Furniture Makers*

As towns grew, hardworking people continued to seize opportunities to start their own businesses. Although still dependent on England for some supplies, these townspeople made things like guns, shoes, clocks, clothing, furniture, silverware, and horseshoes from beginning to end right in their own shops. Specialized businesses produced all the wares during the 1700s.

In the small towns, people often worked several jobs. For example, a clock maker Read More
might also make furniture. In addition to being a blacksmith, a man could likewise be a wheelwright who made wagon wheels and a silversmith who made items from metal. The tanner who made leather, sometimes also made shoes. Each craftsman did his own selling. Generally, the craftsman first took an order, and then constructed what had been requested. 

In Philadelphia, the largest city of that time, a business might have more than one worker. An upholsterer employed many individual craftsmen. For example, one historical account about an upholsterer relates that he employed cabinetmakers, glass grinders, looking-glass frame carvers, and other types of carvers.

Craftsman rarely went to school to learn the trade. Instead, boys and teens became apprentices who trained with an accomplished worker and learned his skills. The apprentices worked for their room and board and, sometimes, a little money. A few were able to attend school to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic. Apprentices, who became skilled at their craft and ready to work on their own, sometimes became journeymen who traveled from town to town, repairing items or making ordered wares. When they earned enough money, they set up their own businesses in a building.

In colonial days, men owned most businesses. However, women ran millinery shops which produced women’s hats and mantua businesses which sold women’s dresses. Some establishments employed women, especially tailors and upholsterers. Unlike men, most women didn’t have to become apprentices to work in the trades. At times, a wife learned to know her mate’s business as well as he did although her name never appeared with his on any sign or advertisement. A few wives even took over the business when their husbands died.

Bruno, Gwen. “Colonial Jobs List.”

“Colonial America’s Pre-Industrial Age of Wood and Water.” Pennsylvania State University.

*Illustrations are not from the colonial time period.

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