A blacksmith was a person who forged iron, usually by repeatedly heating it in a furnace and hammering it on an anvil. The chief work of blacksmiths today is to shoe horses and to make or repair simple wrought-iron objects.
In the last millennium B.C., when the use of iron spread from the Middle East to Europe, the blacksmith equipped the warrior with much improved sword, dagger, and spearhead; the farmer with the first efficient axe and ploughshare; and the craftsman with better tools.
The medieval blacksmith, who left special arms and polished work to the armorer and whitesmith, wrought smelted iron into tools and equipment, for farm, house, and ship. He was a pioneer in burning coal and in building chimneys that provided a better draught for increasing the furnace temperature. However, at the end of the Middle Ages, cast-iron foundry products began to replace some work done by the smith.
After iron smelting was introduced in New England in 1643, the blacksmith's usefulness there increased greatly. Many colonists made their own nails, but they went to the smithy for felling-axes and mattocks, wagon-wheel rims and sleigh runners, chains and ploughs, and all the iron fittings for frame houses and schooners. Later, blacksmiths hammered out Benjamin Franklin's lightning rods and the guns of the minutemen.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the blacksmith lost most of his traditional importance because of the growth of large-scale industry; however, the common surname "Smith" is a reminder that every village had a blacksmith.