To survive in the early west you had to be self-sustaining; Boise, although landlocked and isolated, was able to provide the raw materials and trade goods that attracted a steady flow of workers, consumers, and producers to the city. It’s location in the river valley between the Oregon Trail and the mining trails of the Boise Basin made it an attractive location for craftsmen to practice their trade, and a blacksmith, known for centuries as something of a “jack-of-all-trades” was essential for any growing community. The success of their enterprise in Boise can be seen in the number of metal smiths employed at even the earliest years of its settlement.
Charles Carey, a master blacksmith, arrived in Boise on September 19, 1864 after several months of travel along the Oregon Trail, and managed to find work. He eventually opened his own shop on Main Street, where he worked for several years before he sold his shop for a profit and returned to his family in Iowa.
In 1868, just five short years after the Charter for Boise City had been signed, Main Street had six blacksmith shops that were open to the public. Their main customers were most likely a few busy farmers and other local craftsmen like carpenters, cutlers, gunsmiths, even miners, merchants, and grocers. By the turn of the century every factory, farm, fort, mill, or depot in or around Boise had its own blacksmith on hand for the everyday demands of production. Even the Barnum and Baily Circus arrived in Boise with their own blacksmiths.
As more smiths found work in Boise, the likelier it was that they would come to specialize in a particular aspect of the metal arts. Indeed there were farriers, coopers, and cutlers along with another half dozen or more specialists. The presence of a single Jeweler’s shop on Main Street in 1868 indicates that Boiseans were able to commission and purchase certain luxury items and ornamental objects to decorate their homes and their person. A more delicate environment than the sooty smithy, a jeweler worked with lower temperatures and softer metals like gold and silver, and in cutting and setting precious gems. Metallurgists have long been in the business of decorating the highest of society because the precious metals were and still are expensive.
Mass production has of course changed the nature of these arts, their demand, and their availability. The metal crafts have become something of an extravagance in the day of plastic and other, cheaper and faster, mechanized options. Today there are several professional and traditional jewelers in Boise as adornment and fashion have never quite gone out of style. Molenaar Jewelers has been a family business open in Boise since 1941, and Art Smith Jewelers has been open since 1948. There are still a number of traditional blacksmiths who practice the trade as part of living history or preservation projects, craftsmen who simply make their own tools, and even those who provide period weaponry to collectors and re-enactors. But the so-called ‘New Age of Iron’ has seen a resurgence of artistic, decorative, and architectural metal smiths that labor to provide public and private spaces with aesthetic decorative elements rather than manufacturing tools and parts. To find an example of this kind of craftsmanship see the iron work throughout Matador in downtown on 8th Street.
Also, check out this 1904 video from the Library of Congress that shows blacksmiths at work.
Or visit the Idaho Metal Arts Guild online for a listing of Idaho metal workers.
Have a question about Boise’s history? Ask a Historian.
Historical Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman and the Idaho Daily Statesman
McRaven, Charles. The Black-Smith’s Craft: A Primer of Tools and Methods (Storey Publishing, 2005)
Meilach, Dona Z. The Contemporary Blacksmith (Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2000)
Petersen, Christine. “The Blacksmith” in Colonial People a series (Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2011)
Tunis, Edwin. Colonial Craftsmen: And the Beginnings of American Industry (Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Company, 1965)
 Petersen p. 31
Bound for Idaho: The 1864 Trail Journal of Julius Merrill Ed. Irving R. Merrill
 A survey of Boise’s growth in the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman, October 6, 1868 vol. V issue 31 p. 2
 Idaho Daily Statesman April-December 1908
 The Idaho Daily Statesman August 4, 1908 p. 8
 Petersen p. 32
 Meilach p. 9