Monday, March 03, 2008

The Saugus Pot Story

Saugus Iron Works Pot
In the 1640s the beginnings of American industry began at a blast furnace and foundry on the banks of the Saugus river at the Lynne iron works in Massachusetts. In order to appreciate this momentous event we have to fast forward to circa 2007 where a group of fifth grade teachers have been working to uncover the legacy of the Saugus Iron Works Historic Site through primary source research. On a visit to the Boston Public Library the teachers learned of the existence of a pot purported to have been the first cast iron object in the New World. Was this folklore or fact? Did this pot still exist? Consulting a reference book, The Patent Office Pony, we learned that Joseph Jenks was responsible for establishing the first foundry that gave birth to a one quart pot. The book also stated that the pot "survives in the Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts." Pat Holland, a teacher researching Jenks' life, contacted curators at the Peabody Essex Museum to inquire about the pot. After many emails and phone calls our search reached a dead end. The PEM had no record of the Saugus pot in their collection. Our big break occurred after viewing a 1950s era film, The Saugus Iron Works Restoration, held by the Saugus Iron Works and digitized as part of our project. The film featured a segment in which MIT scientist E.L. Hartley conducted spectroscopic analysis of the Saugus Pot in order to confirm that its iron matched that excavated from the Saugus site. The film pointed our search to the Lynn Public Library in Lynn, MA. A quick phone call to head librarian, Nadine Mitchell, confirmed that the Saugus Pot was still safely held in their vault. I traveled to Lynn Public Library to meet and photograph the famed pot. I was able to handle the pot, carefully positioning it for lighting in order to capture maximum surface detail using a digital SLR camera. Interestingly, only a replica of the pot is on public display owing to the priceless nature of the artifact. One replica was stolen from the library in the early eighties and never recovered. Fortunately, the Saugus Pot survives and we look forward to having students investigate the artifact using our high resolution digital imagery. View more SIW artifacts on our wikispace.

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