The Hammer-Maker

There he was, forty years ago, in a small village of the State of New York; no railroad yet, and even the Erie Canal many miles distant. He was the village blacksmith, his establishment consisting of himself and a boy to blow the bellows.
He was a good deal troubled with his hammers. Sometimes the heads would fly off. If the metal was too soft, the hammer would spread out and wear away; if it was too hard, it would split.
At that time blacksmiths made their own hammers, and he knew very little about mixing ores so as to produce the toughest iron. But he was particularly troubled with the hammer getting off the handle, a mishap which could be dangerous as well as inconvenient.
At this point of his narrative the old gentleman showed a number of old hammers, such as were in use before he began to improve the instrument; and it was plain that men had tried very hard before him to overcome this difficulty.
One hammer had an iron rod running down through the handle with a nut screwed on at the end. Another was wholly composed of iron, the head and handle being all of one piece. There were various other devices, some of which were exceedingly clumsy and awkward.
At last, he hit upon an improvement which led to his being able to put a hammer upon a handle in such a way that it would stay there. He made what is called an adze-handled hammer, the head being attached to the handle after the manner of an adze.
The improvement consists in merely making _a longer hole_ for the handle to go into, by which device it has a much firmer hold of the head, and can easily be made extremely tight.
With this improvement, if the handle is well seasoned and well wedged, there is no danger of the head flying off. He made some other changes, all of them merely for his own convenience, without a thought of going into the manufacture of hammers.
The neighborhood in which he lived would have scarcely required half a dozen new hammers per annum. But one day there came to the village six carpenters to work upon a new church, and one of these men, having left his hammer at home, came to David Maydole’s blacksmith’s shop to get one made.
“Make me as good a hammer,” said the carpenter, “as you know how.”
That was touching David upon a tender place.
“As good a one as I know how?” said he. “But perhaps you don’t want to pay for as good a one as I know how to make.”
“Yes, I do,” replied the man; “I want a good hammer.”
The blacksmith made him one of his best. It was probably the best hammer that had ever been made in the world, since it contained two or three important improvements never before combined in the instrument.
The carpenter was delighted with it, and showed it, with a good deal of exultation, to his five companions; every man of whom came the next day to the shop and wanted one just like it. They did not understand all the blacksmith’s notions about tempering and mixing the metals, but they saw at a glance that the head and the handle were so united that there never was likely to be any divorce between them.
To a carpenter building a wooden house, the mere removal of that one defect was a boon beyond price; he could hammer away with confidence, and without fear of seeing the head of his hammer leap into the next field, unless stopped by a comrade’s head.
When all the six carpenters had been supplied with these improved hammers, the contractor came and ordered two more. He seemed to think, and, in fact, said as much, that the blacksmith ought to make _his_ hammers a little better than those he had made for the men.
“I can’t make any better ones,” said honest David. “When I make a thing, I make it as well as I can, no matter who it’s for.”
Soon after, the store-keeper of the village, seeing what excellent hammers these were, gave the blacksmith a magnificent order for two dozen, which, in due time, were placed upon his counter for sale.
At this time something happened to David Maydole which may fairly be called good luck; and you will generally notice events of the kind in the lives of meritorious men. “Fortune favors the brave,” is an old saying, and good luck in business is very apt to befall the man who could do very well without it.
It so happened that a New York dealer in tools, named Wood, whose store is still kept in Chatham Street, New York, happened to be in the village getting orders for tools. As soon as his eye fell upon those hammers, he saw their merits, and bought them all. He did more. He left a standing order for as many hammers of that kind as David Maydole could make.
That was the beginning. The young blacksmith hired a man or two, then more men, and made more hammers, and kept on making hammers during the whole of his active life, employing at last a hundred and fifteen men.
During the first twenty years, he was frequently experimenting with a view to improve the hammer. He discovered just the best combination of ores to make his hammers hard enough, without being too hard.
He gradually found out precisely the best form of every part. There is not a turn or curve about either the handle or the head which has not been patiently considered, and reconsidered, and considered again, until no further improvement seemed possible. Every handle is seasoned three years, or until there is no shrink left in it.
Perhaps the most important discovery which he made was that a perfect tool cannot be made by machinery.
Naturally, his first thought, when he found his business increasing, was to apply machinery to the manufacture, and for some years several parts of the process were thus performed. Gradually, his machines were discarded, and for many years before his retirement, every portion of the work was done by hand.
Each hammer is hammered out from a piece of iron, and is tempered over a slow charcoal fire, under the inspection of an experienced man. He looks as though he were cooking his hammers on a charcoal furnace, and he watches them until the process is complete, as a cook watches mutton chops.
I heard some curious things about the management of this business. The founder never did anything to “push” it. He never advertised. He never reduced the price of his hammers because other manufacturers were doing so.
His only care, he said, had been to make a perfect hammer, to make just as many of them as people wanted, and _no more_, and to sell them at a fair price. If people did not want his hammers, he did not want to make them. If they did not want to pay what they were worth, they were welcome to buy cheaper ones of some one else.
For his own part, his wants were few, and he was ready at any time to go back to his blacksmith’s shop.
The old gentleman concluded his interesting narration by making me a present of one of his hammers, which I now cherish among my treasures.
If it had been a picture, I should have had it framed and hung up over my desk, a perpetual admonition to me to do my work well; not too fast; not too much of it; not with any showy false polish; not letting anything go till I had done all I could to make it what it should be.
In telling this little story, I have told thousands of stories. Take the word _hammer_ out of it, and put _glue_ in its place, and you have the history of Peter Cooper. By putting in other words, you can make the true history of every great business in the world which has lasted thirty years.
The true “protective system,” of which we hear so much, is _to make the best article_; and he who does this need not buy a ticket for Colorado.


From Captains of Industry or, Men of Business Who Did Something Besides Making Money by James Parton, free at Gutenberg

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