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President's Blog - Who, What, & Why EAIA

Updated: May 15, 2023

I need to introduce myself. My name is Paul Van Pernis and I'm the current President of The Early American Industries Association. You've found our website and I thought you might like to know a bit more about EAIA. Hopefully with some more information you might be persuaded to join us! EAIA was founded in August of 1933, when a group of like-minded individuals met at Wiggins Old Tavern in Northampton, Massachusetts and founded the Association. (There's a plaque on the wall in Wiggins Old Tavern commemorating the event.) The founders stated, "The purpose of the Association is to encourage the study and better understanding of early American industries, in the home, in the shop, on the farm, and on the sea, and especially to discover, identify, classify, preserve, and exhibit obsolete tools, implements, utensils, instruments, vehicles, appliances and mechanical devices used by American craftsmen, farmers, housewives, mariners, professional men and other workers." This rather wordy mission statement was shortened a few years ago to, "The Early American Industries Association preserves and presents historic trades, crafts, and tools and interprets their impact on out lives." The first issue of The Chronicle our quarterly magazine was published on November 20, 1933, and has continued in an unbroken run since that date as the principal source of information regarding early American tools and industry.

So, Who Are We?

Well, we're a very eclectic group of people all of whom are interested in American history in general and American industrial history in particular. Our membership is about 1700 men, women, and institutions. Most of us call the U.S. home, but we've got members in Canada and many European countries as well. Our members include historians, craftsmen, collectors, researchers, museum curators and staff, tinsmiths, blacksmiths, weavers, printers, spinners, tool dealers, teachers, woodworkers, carvers, reenactors, gear-heads, etc., but you get the point! We're all kinds of different people who enjoy sharing our knowledge, skills, and interest in American industrial history with each other and any one else who will listen. My particular area of interest (or disease if you ask my wife) are the planes, spokeshaves, bevels, and squares invented and produced by Leonard Bailey. It's true, the vast majority of us are collectors. It just seems to be part of our make up. You'll find us at the flea markets, garage sales, antique malls, and tool auctions looking for our next "find". But we don't simply acquire objects for the sake of acquisition. We're also collecting information and knowledge. We want to know how the tool was used, who made it, where it was made, when it was made, how it was made, and who used it. Since its inception, EAIA members have been at least as interested in the tools and the process of manufacturing a product as they are in the product itself.

And What Do We Do?

"A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable" - Thomas Jefferson

This quote from Jefferson pretty much sums up what EAIA is all about. We're always looking for those morsels of genuine history and we want not only to preserve them, but keep them alive by teaching ourselves and others the way things were done in the past. We love to experience first hand what every historian, craftsman, or researcher ha experienced: the joy of following clues and leads along diverse pathways and discovering another "morsel of genuine history." While some of us engage in this pursuit more vigorously than others, we want to share our findings with others. We do that in several ways.

The first way is through The Chronicle,our quarterly journal. Free of advertising, it is filled with articles on early American industries and tools. Every issue contains original research and several regular features. Walter Jacob has an article in every issue discussing one or more Stanley Rule & Level Company tools. Tom Elliott, Mike Humphrey, Pat Lasswell, and William Steere take turns writing "Plane Chatter" an ongoing series of articles on wooden planes and their makers. This fine journal is by itself worth the price of membership. Back issues of The Chronicle are available in a searchable format on a DVD available for purchase right here on the website.

The second way is through the EAIA's Research Grants program Started in 1978, the program provides financial support to researchers who are working to expand our knowledge of early trades and industries. The number of grants can vary each year, but in the past two to four grants are awarded each year. The amount of each grant can be up to $3000 and they can be used to supplement existing fellowships, scholarships or other forms of aid. You don't have to be a student or academic to receive one of these grants. Many of our members engaged in their own research have been recipients of these grants. All we ask of the grant recipients is that they publish an article about their findings in The Chronicle. Since the research Grants Program's inception, EAIA has awarded over 120 of these grants resulting in a significant increase in our knowledge of early American trades and industries. You can find out more about the Research Grants program here.

The third way is through our Annual Meeting held each year during the month of May. These three day meetings are held at various historic sites in North America. Recently we've had meetings at Plimoth Plantation in Hyannis, Massachusetts, The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and last May we met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In May of 2015, our meeting will be held in Quebec City, Canada. We do more at our meetings than just visit historic sites and museums. We're great fans of "behind the scenes tours" and we often gain access to parts of museums and collections that the public doesn't get to see. We have members and others provide demonstrations and/or lectures showing attendees how tools were used and how things were made. Our members bring displays to educate and enlighten us. And of course we buy, sell, and trade tools. These meetings are fun, affordable, and I always come home with new knowledge, great memories and at least one new tool to add to my collection.

Finally, there are several other things we do to keep you informed and increase your knowledge of early American industries and trades. Our quarterly newsletter Shavings will keep you posted on all of EAIA's activities as well as inform you of other organizations activities that may be of interest to our members. We also publish books such as A Pattern Book of Tools and Household Goods, and Stanley Woodworking Tools, The Finest Years, by Walter Jacob. We have back issues of The Chronicle available on DVD as well as The Directory of American Tool Makers. Please visit our on-line store for these for sale publications and DVDs. And our ever improving website will continue to bring you more information to fuel your interest and expand your knowledge.

Why Should You Join?

Well, I hope by now that I've convinced you that the Early American Industries Association is a great organization to belong to if you love history, enjoy working with your hands, collect tools, or just want to learn more about how things used to be done. The $39 annual membership fee is a bargain and we want you to join us as we "preserve and present historic trades, crafts, and tools and interpret their impact on our lives." Come give us a try, you won't regret it!

Paul Van Pernis, President of EAIA


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