Did you know that Paul Revere was an early metallurgist? Revere’s early education was sufficient to enable him to later read the difficult metallurgical books of his day. His early training was by his father, who was a Boston silversmith. At 19 – upon the death of his father in 1754 – Revere took over the family silver shop. A perfectionist throughout his life, he went on to become one of America’s greatest artists in silver.
A consummate entrepreneur, Revere tried his hand at many businesses as he worked to feed and clothe his growing family. Most of his life’s work involved metals, beginning with the crafting of silver pieces ranging from simple spoons to full tea sets.
In his day, a silversmith melted sterling in a graphite and clay crucible to about 2000°F to make a teapot. He would then pour the liquid silver into a tallow-greased, sooted cast-iron mold to produce an ingot. Using a large hammer, the ingot would be hot forged into a billet. A circle was then cut from the thick billet sheet. This circular piece of silver would then be stretched thinner by hammering it against anvils and cupping it into a bowl shape. When the silver became brittle from working, it was heated to red-hot and plunged into an acid bath to keep it malleable.
Revere’s silver work is often divided into two periods: before and after the Revolutionary War. Some of his most creative and varied work came from the early period. The output of his shop increased after the war. It became more standardized with the help of equipment such as the flatting mill he acquired in 1785.
While we will return to Revere’s metallurgical prowess, a discussion of this man must include at least a mention of his involvement in our nation’s revolution. Along with silversmithing, one of Revere’s early vocations was as a copperplate engraver. A 1770 engraving of the Boston Massacre – full of historical inaccuracies – incited colonist’s anger with the British troops in Boston. In 1773, Revere and 50 other patriots took part in the Boston Tea Party, although he never took credit for participating.
Two years later – April 18, 1775 – he set out from Boston with two others on his now famous ride to warn fellow countrymen that the British troops were on the march. The phrase “the British are coming” is clearly inaccurate according to first-hand sources. These riders would have delivered the warning, “The regulars are coming out!” While he served as an officer in the Massachusetts militia during the war, his military career was undistinguished.
Following the war, the silver trade was difficult due to a postwar depression. By 1788, Revere had opened an iron and brass foundry in Boston’s North End. The foundry manufactured bolts, spikes and nails for North End shipyards, including the brass fittings for the USS Constitution.
Always the astute businessman, Revere recognized the growing market for church bells in the religious revival – the second great awakening. He became one of the best-known metal casters of bells ranging in size from a few pounds to 2,943 pounds. His firm – Paul Revere & Sons – cast the first bell made in Boston and produced over 900 in total. Considered his largest and finest casting, the bell in the historic King’s Chapel resounds daily with a sound so unique it can be recognized by Bostonians from a great distance.
As his final metallurgical accomplishment, Revere started the first copper rolling mill in North America in 1801 at the age of 66. Copper sheeting from this mill was used for the hull of the USS Constitution and the dome of the Massachusetts State House in 1802.
In 1818, at the age of 83, Paul Revere died. His legacy as a patriot, entrepreneur and metallurgist extraordinaire goes on.