Oakland, Maine, was once known as the axehead capital of the world. At its peak, the small town boasted around 18 axe factories, all crowded side by side along the Messalonksee.
By the time director Peter Vogt arrived in 1965, there was only one left. Mass production and foreign imports had crushed the local industry, but somehow forgot the Emerson & Stevens factory. Vogt’s short film Pioneer Axe is a mesmerising look at Oakland’s dying craft of axe-making in its final days. In an age of assembly lines and container ships, two Emerson & Stevens workers continue to toil away at medieval-looking forges, trip hammers, grinders and brine tanks. At one stage, a worker lights his pipe off a glowing hot axehead.
Within a few months of filming, the Emerson & Stevens factory closed down. The building itself was torn down five years later. Today, all that remains is the foundation and a few grinding wheels left in the Messalonskee – and, fortunately, this video.