Makers and Fixers

The middle part of the early Albany community economy included the artisans, craftsmen, and tradesmen who used forest, metal, fabric, and animal materials to build and make most of the things the people of colonial Albany used in their daily lives.

Eighteenth-cenutury Saddler's shopThese were Albany's woodworkers, smiths, tailors, and leatherworkers. Because most made goods were used and reused and few things were throw away, these producers also spent much of their work time repairing, augmenting, and adapting existing domestic and imported items. Albany's producers, its makers and fixers, accounted for the largest part of the community economy until the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

Albany's production economy first served the settlers within the community and its agricultural hinterland. But from its earliest days, Albany was a place where outsiders came to obtain goods and supplies and to have their broken tools and implements repaired. This tradition began during the New Netherland era when the community's principal activity involved trading for furs with Native Americans who came to Albany and its antecedents, Fort Orange and Beverwyck. A few Albany fur traders were able to offer imported tools, trinkets, textiles, and tasty morsels. These intricate, colorful, and exotic items were most preferred by the Indians.

But most Albany people had little access to imported items and instead baked, brewed, hammered, and sewed foodstuffs, implements, clothing, and leather items for use in the Indian trade. They also repaired and customized the tools, weapons, and other trade items that invariably were broken by their unknowing new owners. Albany's enduring identity as a repair center can be traced to the seventeenth-century fur trade, a by-product of which was an enclave of fixers or tinkerers which continued to grow into the twentieth century. These handiwork initiatives made it possible for one-time tenants and colonists to become successful commercial entrepreneurs. The Indian fur trade was responsible for the success of the commercial community that became Albany in 1664 and provided the basis for the wealth of most New Netherland-era families.

As time passed, a few Albany traders evolved into businessmen - buying and selling goods, commodities, and services. More frequently, however, after the passing of the fur trade, onetime traders began to rely more on their production and repair skills. By the early 1700s, a substantial production community had become a prominent feature of Albany society. These craftspeople utilized forest and animal products, metals, and fabrics, whether locally gathered and extracted or imported from Europe, to fashion finished items for sale to their city neighbors and to a growing regional market. Their products were of variable quality. Some Albany producers came to the community with a learned skill. Some were the sons of or had observed craftsmen at work in Europe and elsewhere in America. Others sought to duplicate imported items for sale. By the middle of the eighteenth century, Albany people were engaged in dozens of production activities - turning out market items with varying degrees of distinction and success.

Because production activities involved virtually every early Albany family, the story of the community's tradesmen and tinkerers is a major theme in the city's history. This section provides access to the stories of hundreds of early Albany working people. In addition, the Colonial Albany Project has published several articles on the early Albany workforce.

Listed below are production activities commonly practiced in colonial Albany. They are arranged according to the principal raw material utilized. Some of the links are to prominent practicioners. Others further explain the activity/enterprise.

Wood Trades: worked with wood!

house carpenter: Framed and finished dwellings and outbuildings.A trade more widely practiced than the number of Albany men specifically identified as house carpenters. Named practicioners included William Hun (1734-1814).
cooper - bent and shaped wood into barrels and buckets.
furniture makers - a more evolved woodworker - rarely identified as such in colonial Albany.

Metal Trades:


Hemp Trades:

Animal Products:

Food Production:


Makers & Fixers


Published during the mid-eighteenth century, engravings printed in Denis Diderot, A Diderot Pictorial Encyclopedia of Trades and Industry often are used to represent pre-industrial producers. We find them particularly appropriate for early Albany even though they often depict several tradesmen working together - which was only beginning to happen in early Albany!

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first posted: 1999; last revised 11/02