As I was piecing together the lives of my paternal Great Great Grandparents Ameda and Lillian (Gau) Gamache I began to focus on Ameda. I started to go through his census records and learned that in his early 20’s he was a carpenter, just like his father. By the next census he was a self defined tinner and working in a shop. 10 years later he was a tinner who owned his own shop. Most tinners, or tinsmiths, spent 4-6 years in an apprenticeship before they were considered a master tinsmith.
Seeing life progression of my ancestors is such a joy to me.
Apprenticeships would start first with simply cleaning the shop, polishing tools, keeping the fires lit, filing sharp edges, and polishing finished pieces. Later he would trace patterns on sheets and cut them out, then soldering joints, and inserting rivets. Finally, he was allowed to cut out and complete objects. He learned first to make cake stamps (cookie cutters), pillboxes and other simple items. Next, he formed objects such as milk pails, basins, or cake and pie pans. Later he tackled more complicated pieces such as chandeliers and crooked-spout coffee pots.
After his apprenticeship was completed, he then became a journeyman, not yet being a master smith employing others. Many young tinsmiths took to the road as peddlers or tinkers to save enough money to open a shop in town.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tinsmith
And open a shop in town he did! Ameda converted a room in his house into a shop with its own separate entrance. The sign on the home read, ‘ AJ GAMACHE TINNER.’
Tinplate is safe for food, is non toxic, and was strong. It was considered the poor mans silver because it was affordable to buy and get repaired. Ameda had a booming business until aluminum and stainless steel came onto the scene fully in the 1930’s It was followed by plastics after that. Before this, the tinplate industry was massively successful.
Tinners had to pivot to stay relevant in their line of work in the 20th century.
Ameda turned his tinsmith knowledge and skills to focus on heating, sheetmetal work, guttering and spouting. He also did furnace cleaning and repairing. Tinners also worked in plumbing and roofing trades which are still needed in todays tinsmith market.
Today, tinsmiths still have a rigorous apprenticeship schedule and quite lengthy too. The work in manufacturing plants, constructions sites, heating and cooling companies. They require good math skills, stamina, heavy lifting, precision and attention to detail.
Reading about the job criteria of a tinner gave me a glimpse into my Great Grandpa Ameda’s personality. His strengths show through.
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