The History of Square Nails in America

(Information below obtained through the research of Eric Sloan library and the Parker Mills Nail Company c. 1918)


Hand made, square nails made from iron date back to 3000 B.C. according to archeological digs. It is well known from research that the Romans hand-forged nails which have been found in the excavations of sunken ships from the period 500 A.D. Certainly, we know they existed during the time of Christ as the Holy Bible mentions the use of nails to crucify Jesus of Nazareth at Calvary.


When settlers first immigrated to the Americas in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s they discovered a rich resource in the soil that would turn out to be crude iron ore deposits. From these deposits they smelted this ore to separate the metal from the earth and in tern began the fashioning of tools and nails similar to those they had left behind in England.


At Plymouth, the Massachusetts Bay Colony grew a sizable iron producing industry out of which came utensils, tools, ship hardware, nails, wagon treads and much more. Thus, an industry had been born—out of necessity.


However, nail making in America during the Revolutionary War period was still confined to cottage industry, small shops and forge barns by private individuals where as many as a thousand nails per day could be hand-forged by skilled black smiths. Post war needs grew for nails and along with reconstruction the demand for large scale production grew. People needed nails by the thousands to simply keep up with ever growing population and expansion of the now United States of America. Therefore, the limited supply of hand-forged nails was now insufficient.


Sometime in the late 1700’s Ezekiel Reed of Bridgewater, Massachusetts invented the first cut square nail machine. His original machine and technology lent itself to the first mass-production factory that was later built on the site of the old cotton mill known as the Parker Mill site, which the British Redcoats bombed and burned during the War of 1812. The Pratt brothers, with Reed’s inventions established a large production nail-cutting factory at this site in 1819. With the spread of this technology, many other nail factories popped up throughout the New England area and then continued spreading in all directions in the United States.


At Historic™ Floor Company we still use nails made on the type machine that was first invented by Ezekiel Reed. We source our PortsmouthSeries Square Nails from partners that still make nails the way they did almost 200 years ago. These nails have superior holding power and durability not found in a modern round nail. At Historic Floor Company we hold dear to the tradition of this period-style trade and believe in preserving the tradition of this early American industry. We recommend using these authentic nails into wide plank hardwood flooring for function and to create a historically accurate aesthetic floor.