Nail (Sax. ncegel; Ger. Nagel), a piece of metal, more or less sharp at one end with a head at the other, used to fasten together pieces of wood or other material by being driven into or through them. The principal division is into wrought and cut nails, the former being made from tough wrought iron, the latter from rolled plates. The different sorts are named from the use to which they are applied or from their shape, as shingle, floor, or horseshoe nails, tacks, brads, or spikes. The term penny, when used to mark the size of nails, is supposed to be a corruption of pound. Thus, a four-penny nail was such that 1,000 of them weighed 4 lbs., a ten-penny such that 1,000 weighed 10 lbs. Originally, the "hundred " when applied to nails was 6 score or 120; consequently the thousand was 1,200. - The making of nails is one of the oldest of the handicraft arts, probably dating as far back as the art of working metals. Before the invention of machinery an immense number of persons were employed in making nails, there having been no fewer than (30,000 nailers in the neighborhood of Birmingham alone. It is only within the last 80 years that machinery has' been employed to supersede to any extent hand labor in nail making.
It appears, however, that as early as 1606 Sir Davis Buhner obtained a patent for cutting nail rods by water power. The details of the invention are unknown, and there are no records of English patents prior to 1617. In 1618 a patent was issued in England to Clement Dawbeny for an improvement on Buhner's machine. But machinery was not put into actual use in England till 1790, when Thomas Clifford of the city of Bristol patented a nail machine. His machines were used in French's factory at Wineburn, Staffordshire, in 1702. He used two iron rollers, faced with steel, in which were sunk impressions, or forms of the nails, half of the form being in each roller, and arranged circumferentially, so. that a bar of iron, being passed between the rollers, came through a string of nails, the head of one nail being slightly joined to the point of the next. In the United States, where so many wooden structures had to be erected by the settlers, the obtaining of cheap nails was of the utmost importance. In 1775 Jeremiah Wilkinson of Cumberland, R. I., cut tacks from sheet iron, and afterward nails and spikes, forming the heads in a vice.
The first patent issued for a machine for cutting nails is said to have been given to Josiah G. Person, or Pearson, of New York, March 23, 1794. On Jan. 16, 1795, Jacob Perkins of Boston obtained a patent for a cutting machine said to have been invented about 1790, and to have been capable of making 200,000 nails a day. The following year patents were issued to Peter Cliff and to Amos Whittemore of Massachusetts, and to Daniel French of Connecticut. It is said that the first patent for a cutting and heading machine (Nov. 11, 1796) was granted to Isaac Garretson of Pennsylvania; and on Dee. 12, 1796, a patent for a similar machine to George Chandler of Maryland. Ezekiel Reed of Bridgewater, Mass., is also said to have invented a machine for cutting and heading nails at one operation. Afterward several patents were granted to Jesse Reed, Samuel Rogers, and Melville Otis of Massachusetts, to Mark and Richard Reeve of Philadelphia, to Roswell Noble of Baltimore, and others. The machine invented by Jesse Reed, with some later improvements, is that still most largely used.
The manufacture of cut nails was soon established in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. In 1810 Joseph C. Dyer of Boston, but then a merchant in London, took out patents in England for the nail machinery invented in Massachusetts, and large manufacturing establishments were soon put in operation. Some in the neighborhood of Birmingham are able to make over 40,000,000 nails a week. Mr. Edward Hancorne, a nail maker of London, in 1828 obtained a patent for a nail machine, by which the nail was pointed by swedging it between two oscillating snail pieces or spirals, the rod being cut off by shears and headed by a piece working in a slide propelled by a cam attached to a shaft. In 1834 Mr. Henry Burden obtained a patent for a machine, which with several improvements has been for many years in successful operation at his extensive nail works in Troy, N. Y. Many of the first inventors spent large sums of money on their machines. It has been estimated that it cost more than $1,000,000 to bring them to the perfection arrived at in 1810, when a machine made about 100 nails per minute. It was at this time that the full value of the invention was brought prominently before the world in the well known report of Albert Gallatin, then secretary of the treasury.
Large nail factories were early established in different parts of Massachusetts, and at Ellicott's Mills, near Baltimore. At the present day the business is carried on very extensively in the Schuylkill iron region. There the pigs from the furnace go immediately to the bloomary, thence to the rolling mill, and so on through the slitting and nail-cutting machines, so that all the operations from the crude ore to the finished nail are carried on at the same place.