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What did a Tilter and a Hammerman do?

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

While researching my family history, I found records indicating the occupation of my 4th great-grandfather, William Dickinson of Yorkshire, England, worked as a Tilter. In some records he was called a Hammerman, a trade which he taught his son, John Dickinson, who passed the trade onto his son, Harry Dickinson John and Harry emigrated to America around 1880 and lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They are two of the original "Pittsburgh Steelers".

After some research, I learned that a Tilter and Hammerman were essentially the same thing. They worked in the steel mill and used a large machine called a tilt hammer, to forge steel bars.

This excerpt from "The Steel Workers", by John A. Fitch, 1910, sheds some light on the pay of a Hammerman:

"A statement from the proprietor of one of the largest rolling mills in the district, regarding wages paid in his mill in 1881-1882, was to the effect that under the contract system one steel worker had made $25,000 in a year. A sheet shearer made $12 per day and paid his helper $2.00. A hammerman in charge of both turns made $17 per day and paid his helper $2.50. This gouging was combatted by the 'one job' rule of the Amalgamated Association. This rule defined what a 'job' was and prohibited any member from holding two or more."

This photo, from the same source shows the scene at an iron mill with the crews at the hammer and furnace. The extreme heat from the furnaces and piercing sound of of steel being hammered certainly made this a dreadful work environment. (Photo by Hine)


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