One-Minute Essays
Our goal with One Minute Essays is to provide the reader with a basic understanding of the concepts at hand without getting bogged down into tiny details. One Minute Essays are generalizations. Unless otherwise indicated, they are meant to convey information that in general applies to all the ironworks, or the mills, or the societal aspects under discussion.


  • Mills in Colonial Cities, Steven A. Walton
    Teaching activities. If you look around your own town if there is any flowing source of water at all, it is virtually guaranteed that you will find a street named after a mill or its industry.
  • The Millers’ Tale, Robert P. Rich
    The work of the miller has lent itself to several such figures of speech.
  • Colonial Pennsylvania Mills, Bill Pensack
    Because of the social and economic structure of early America, colonial mills functioned far differently than in Europe. First, food was far more plentiful and varied. Second, because there was no manorial system, except in New York, mills could (and were) built almost anywhere. Third, government authority was weak (there was usually no army except the militia, that is, the citizens themselves) and responsive to popular will.
  • Of Chairs and Mills, Steven A. Walton
    The interplay between trades was relatively limited in European cultures: professional conduct was often regulated by guilds. In America on the other hand, the relative scarcity of labor let — even demanded that — craftsmen do all the necessary jobs and then some. Under the roughly 150 years of the existence of the American colonies before Independence, guilds never got a strong foothold here.
  • Windmills on a Caribbean Island, Steven A. Walton and Marco Meniketti.
    Teaching activities. The Island of Nevis in the Caribbean is a wonderful laboratory to understand how windmills were sited. Discussion questions.
  • Three Types of Waterwheels, Steven A. Walton
    There are three basic types of waterwheels.

Iron Manufacture

  • Bad Metal in a Fight, Ben Hudson
    Throughout history the smelting of raw ore into metal has been only one consideration; a more important concern was the production of good quality metal. Impurities, improper smelting procedures, and low-grade ore all resulted in metal that was brittle or soft. For farmers this meant that plough shares or metal implements broke frequently. For warriors, this meant that their weapons would fail them in battle.
  • Swords into Ploughshares, Ben Hudson
    The solution to the problem of poor quality metal came from the Vikings themselves. In the ninth century an improved smelter was developed in, what is now, Norway. Many Europeans came to North America because they wanted to turn their swords into plough shares. In the Middle Ages improved metal processing helped that wish.
  • Forge, Furnace, What's the Difference?, Gerald Eggert
    Medieval ironmakers often used the terms "bloomery," "forge," and "furnace" interchangeably. The terms were, in fact, the names given the three major mechanisms employed during the course of the Middle Ages for smelting (separating metallic iron from its ore). Although all used charcoal for fuel, there were significant differences in methods, scale of operation and efficiency.
  • How to "Blow In" a Newly Built or a Cold Iron Furnace, Gerald Eggert
    Once constructed, a new iron furnace — or one that has been "blown out" and allowed to stand cold — must be "blown in" before it is ready to smelt iron. — How this is done.
  • What Goes on in the Blast Furnace?, Gerald Eggert
    How a blast furnace works.
  • Where Do Little Pig Irons Come From?, Gerald Eggert
    How to tap iron from the blast furnace.
  • To Market, to Market, But How?, Gerald Eggert
    What was done with all of the iron—pig, bar and wrought—once it was made?
  • The System of a Blast Furnace, Steven A. Walton
    In order to understand the blast furnace, let's take a look at one built in Maryland in the 1760s.
  • How to Make Charcoal, Gerald Eggert
    How to make charcoal, medieval or colonial.
  • Medieval Manors vs. Colonial Plantations, Steven A. Walton
    The medieval manor and colonial plantation shared a great deal in common. American plantations were actually more medieval than their contemporary farms back in Europe because of their isolation. Even industrial iron plantations smelting iron replicated the medieval manor.
  • Feudalism vs. Capitalism in the Colonies, Steven A. Walton
    A much more detailed study of labor relations and modes of production in two early North American colonies. Sweeny takes a look at French Canada (Quebec), founded in 1608 as what he quite rightly notes was "the world's last feudal society," and the British colonization of Newfoundland starting in 1610, "the world's first capitalist society."
  • What Was an Iron Plantation?, Gerald Eggert
    A large rural establishment in the North, with hired hands producing iron, was as much a "Plantation" in this broader sense as was a big tobacco or cotton farm in the South worked by slaves. How an iron plantation was run.
  • The Company Store, Gerald Eggert
    Iron masters (the owners of the furnace) usually operated a "company store" for the convenience of both his workers and himself.
  • The Lives of Pre-Industrial Workers, Gerald Eggert
    Prior to the 19th Century, with few exceptions, people spent their whole life working, the great majority as farmers.
  • Recycling in Colonial America: Pewter, Robert P. Rich
    American pewtersmiths had only one course of action, to collect damaged or disused pewter goods and recycle them.
  • Ironworks and the Revolution, Steven A. Walton
    The importance of iron to the revolution cannot be understated.
  • The Cautionary Tale of Comparing Ironworks, Gerald Eggert
    It must be kept in mind in reading the One Minute Essays that they are generalizations. Unless otherwise indicated, they are meant to convey information that in general applies to all the ironworks under discussion.


  • The Industrial World, Steven A. Walton
    In the first two centuries of American existence, the industrial experience differed little here from that in Europe.
  • Medieval Technology and Agriculture, Steven A. Walton
    Studying political history, we find a strong break between the medieval and modern worlds in the 16th century Reformation and 18th century revolutions. When viewed through other lenses, such as demographics and material culture, continuities stand out more strongly than discontinuities
  • On Owning Land, Steven A. Walton
    Attitudes towards land in the two cultures — one developed more linearly from medieval feudalism, one reinvented in a vast open continent.
  • Forge, Mill, and the Societies of Northern Britain and Ireland, Ben Hudson
    The contribution of the Scotch-Irish to the development of colonial is often acknowledged, but little studied.