Lesson Plan

Saugus Iron Works: Life and Work at an Early American Industrial Site

Saugus Iron Works
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 2 Standard 2C: The student understands social and cultural change in British America.
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

How do we learn about the everyday lives of American colonists?


1. To describe what is known about life and work at the Saugus Iron Works in the 1600s;
2. To determine the relationship between natural resources and the location and development of the ironworks;
3. To explain the role of the Saugus Iron Works in the start of the American iron industry;
4. To define the role archeology can play in helping us interpret the past;
5. To compare the industrial activity of the Saugus Iron Works with industry established in the early years of their own community.


Time Period: Colonial/Revolutionary
Topics: This lesson could be used in teaching units on the life and culture of colonial America, archeology, settlements and use of the land, or the history of technology.


This lesson could be used in teaching units on the life and culture of colonial America, archeology, settlements and usThe landscape had changed. Over time, parts of the river had silted in; marsh grasses, purple loosestrife, and other vegetation tumbled over the watercourse where iron-laden vessels once sailed. But a slag pile remained, and the Saugus River continued its flow along a prescribed course. Written records suggested that some 300 years past, this place served as the location of a prosperous iron industry. In 1948 archeologists were given the opportunity to survey and excavate the site and concluded that the written records were correct. Now overgrown and urbanized, from 1646 until 1668, this was the site of the Saugus Iron Works. That discovery led to a careful, though partly conjectural, reconstruction of the first successful integrated ironmaking plant in colonial America.

The early Puritan settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony undeniably needed an ironmaking factory. For those colonists, the first order of business was to build houses and plant crops. Essential to those tasks were iron tools and utensils: axes, saws, hoes, nails, pots, and kettles. Most colonists brought some needed tools and utensils with them. As the population grew, however, so did the need for more iron products. For more than 20 years this need was met by the Saugus Iron Works.

Ironmasters recruited skilled and unskilled workers from the ironmaking regions in England. These men were well acquainted with the white-heat of the blast furnace, the clanging noise of the great hammer, the hard work, and the need for constant alertness in this dangerous workplace. They knew how to endure the grueling motions that tore at their muscles, the suffocating smell of the molten metal, and the deafening atmosphere. The reconstruction of the Saugus Iron Works helps us to imagine the daily life of these early European settlers.
 of the land, or the history of technology.

Lesson Hook/Preview

The Massachusetts Bay Colony found itself in an economic crisis when the Great Migration of the 1630s from England to the American colonies ended. As fewer ships came to New England, iron products became scarcer and more expensive. In 1641 the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted an ordinance for "encouragement to discovery of mines." By this legislation, anyone discovering mineral deposits in the colony would possess exclusive rights for 21 years. Colonists could buy land from Native Americans and, with the permission of the owners, could prospect for ore and develop mines on lands already held by settlers. The loss of a steady source of iron products from England and the discovery of iron ore precipitated a major industrial enterprise.

John Winthrop, Jr., son of the colony’s governor, was particularly interested in developing an iron industry in Massachusetts. Educated at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, Winthrop had studied law and read widely in the sciences. He experimented in alchemy (an attempt to turn base metals into gold), medicine, and metallurgy. In 1641 he sailed to England to seek investors in a plan to start an ironworks in America. By 1643 Winthrop had found about two dozen men willing to invest in a "Company of Undertakers of the Iron Works in New England." Returning to the Massachusetts Bay Colony that year with a necessary team of skilled workmen, Winthrop established an ironworks along the Saugus River that operated from 1646 to 1668. In effect, he created the foundation for the American iron industry.

Some 300 years later, in 1948, the site where this ironworks had been established was excavated under the direction of archeologist Roland Wells Robbins. He and his crew found foundations of the buildings, remains of the holding ponds and the canal, half of the original blast furnace waterwheel and wheel pit, and more than 5,000 artifacts ranging from a 500-pound hammerhead to brass pins. As a result of the archeological evidence and historical documents that were found, the American Iron and Steel Institute decided to fund a reconstruction of the ironworks. The reconstructed site, based partly on conjecture, opened to the public in 1954. In 1968 the site became a unit of the National Park Service.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.



Additional Resources

Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site
Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System. Visit the park's web pages to learn more about the park's history and visiting the site.

National Park Service History: Themes of History
The National Park System comprises 384 units or areas. These areas of historic, cultural, natural, scenic and scientific importance include resources that are of such national significance as to justify special protection and recognition by various acts of the United States Congress. Saugus Iron Works is recognized as being nationally significant under the theme of labor. Visit this page to understand why.

Library of Congress
Search the digital collections for primary resources on Saugus Iron Works, iron making, and colonial America.

National Park Service: Archeology and Ethnography
Archeology and Ethnography is a division of the National Park Service. Visit the program's web pages to better understand the Federal Archeology Program, including the history of archeology, protection of archeological sites, and managing cultural resources.

Middle Tennessee State University: Teaching Archeology
The Heritage Education Network web page is for educators who want to know more about incorporating archeology into their classrooms. What is archeology? Why is it important? Where can I find classroom materials on archeology? How can I use them in the classroom? What are some of the resources in my state that I can go to for more help and information? This web site answers these questions and much more.

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Last updated: March 30, 2023