Paul Revere, Industrial history, Early American economy, Early American manufacturing
Robert Martello is on a mission: to convince us that the history of American industrialization can be related tellingly through the life and times of Paul Revere—yes, Paul Revere of the famed Midnight Ride. Skepticism immediately is in order, but Martello chips away at the doubts and succeeds in large measure in substantiating his claim; in the process, he presents the reader with an intriguing study.
Revere was born in Boston in 1734. His father was a French immigrant who apprenticed with Boston's most skilled silversmith and then opened his own shop, his mother a member of a well-established Boston family. Revere naturally apprenticed as a silversmith with his father, but unnaturally assumed management of the shop as the family's oldest son at the age of nineteen with his father's death. Through careful research in surviving ledger books, Martello is able to document the remarkable success of Revere. He was fortunate to inherit the clients of his father and the contacts of his mother's family; his notable craftsmanship created demand for the fine silverware produced in his shop; he managed his business well and was quite resourceful.
Revere joined the Sons of Liberty, but he did not a play a significant role in the percolating anti-British politics of his hometown. Nor did he engage significantly with his fellow artisans. Martello argues that Revere had aspirations to rise socially—to be a well-affixed merchant or government appointee, not just a toiler with his hands. Of course, [End Page 307] he gained a place in the history books with his ride to Lexington on the night of April 18, 1775, to warn of an impending attack of British soldiers and specifically to prevent the capture of Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Revere was lucky that this heralded event cast to the side his less impressive role in the Revolutionary War effort: specifically, his bungling as a commander of a mission to rid British control of Penobscot Bay in Maine that led to his inglorious discharge and a series of court martials that eventually absolved him of blame. Revere did better in applying his mechanical skills to the cause of independence. He served as an official engraver and printer to the Continental Congress and was enlisted to submit a plan for the construction of a gunpowder works in New England. As Martello shows, Revere was always an ardent student of technology, and in the case of the gunpowder mill and other manufacturing ventures he corresponded widely and visited existing operations.
Ever open to new ideas and opportunities, Revere embarked on a series of experiments at the war's end that built on his expertise with metals. In 1785, he established a water-powered mill to produce rolled sheets of silver. In 1788, he opened an iron foundry that specialized in the casting of cannons. In the 1790s, he embarked on his most ambitious enterprise, the creation of a copper works. Through a good deal of seat-of-the-pants learning, he succeeded in producing copper that could be cast into bells and cannons and through annealing be readied for hammering into bolts, spikes, nails, and various ship fittings. His achievements in copper production brought him into contact with Benjamin Stoddert, the nation's first Secretary of the Navy, who advanced a sizable government loan to Revere to establish a copper rolling mill to produce copper sheathing for naval vessels.
Paul Revere started as a renowned silversmith and ended his business career as a manufacturer of heavy metal products. When he retired, he bequeathed his business to his son and ultimately the enterprise and others would be merged and incorporated in 1928 as the Revere Copper Company. Paul Revere died in 1818 and oddly would be remembered for his one night adventure on horseback and not for a lifetime as a remarkable artisan and manufacturer.
At every point in the narrative...