1866 The Beginning

April 9

Joseph M. Kavanagh and the son of a fellow coppersmith, George Smith Jr. form a partnership. Kavanagh & Smith which will be the precursor to the Joseph Kavanagh Company. George Jr. is fresh out of the Union Navy. His father knew Joe from being in the same trade. They most likely worked together and this deal was struck. There is no indication that George Sr. ever worked there. The arrangement was for Joe to be the smith ( despite his partner’s last name ) and George Jr. to be the bookkeeper. George was not a coppersmith, but I’m sure he was familiar with the industry due to his father’s experience. I’m sure they worked together. A two man operation to start. They rented      premises at 1 W. Falls Avenue. Just a stall to start out, but it was their first location. This spot was very close to the Jones Falls and actually doesn’t exist anymore. The Jones Falls Expressway is there now. They made and sold household items from copper. Pots, pans, goblets and pitchers ( like the one in the photo below ). Joe had hammers, tongs and a few other hand tools to do his work. He probably used something called a gas-lamp or gas-pipe. They were early blowtorches. It’s a crude torch with the fuel source in your hand with the torch itself. Dangerous, without a doubt, especially compared to the propane torches of today. The torch was used to anneal or soften the copper                        making it more malleable. With heat, his hands, his tools and the sweat of his brow he did his work. By all accounts the partnership of Joe and George Jr. was an amicable one. Of course, there are very few accounts, but it seemed to work. They started this business with little fanfare or any thoughts to its longevity.

July 25

Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh’s second son is born. Joseph Anthony Kavanagh. “Crazy Joe”, as he eventually is called, was a song and dance man. At 17, he did the Kavanagh equivalent of running off to join the circus. He joined a minstrel troupe. He traveled the country and Europe as a vaudevillian. He was never a coppersmith, but when his time comes, he brings a showman’s style and panache to the Shop. That’s a long way away though.


The Kavanaghs still lived on Albemarle Street. A close knit family. All working their jobs for the family. Still led by their mother, Alice Kavanagh. The woman with the unimaginable courage to bring them all to this country for a better life.

I often wonder what Old Uncle Joe (Joseph M.) would think if he knew we were still around, still open. Five generations of Kavanaghs after him have kept this place alive as it did the same for them. I wonder if it might change his view of his life. I’m sure he’d be stunned. People in the 1800s were not even dreaming about the 2000s. You see. You don’t set out to start a business to last over 150 years. It would be ridiculous. So, no, you don’t try to do it, but it doesn’t happen by accident either. It doesn’t happen by accident or luck. I can assure you of that. It’s one of those kind of things. When Old Uncle Joe started this place, dreams were formed and destinies set. His, mine and everyone in between.




Andrew Johnson was the President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated less than one year before this beginning. America was still fairly new. The Civil War was over and the country trying to rebuild. There were 26 states in the Union including Tennessee which was re-admitted on July 24, 1866


*A note on re-admittance. Technically, the Confederate Sates never left the Union. When I use the term ” re-admit”, I mean when they regained representation in Congress and were getting their state autonomy back. Though not exactly re-admitting, it’s the simplest term for me to use.



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