In the late 1860s, when the first transcontinental railroad line was nearing completion, Oakes Ames was known as the "King of Spades." With his younger brother Oliver, he owned Ames & Sons, the Easton, Massachusetts, company that led the world in the manufacture of shovels, picks, and other hand tools. But the Ameses' role in the railroad enterprise went well beyond making shovels for the workers. Both brothers were actively involved in raising the capital for the railroad's construction. As a result of their "creative" financing, Oakes Ames would acquire a new nickname — "Hoax Ames."
The industrial history of Easton, a small town 24 miles south of Boston, began with the discovery of bog iron there in the late 1600s. Easton was an important iron-producing center throughout the eighteenth century and supplied both men and muskets to the Continental Army.
In 1803 a blacksmith named Oliver Ames settled in Easton and took advantage of the town's tradition of iron manufacturing to establish the Ames Shovel Company. From its humble beginnings as a one-forge blacksmith shop, the Ames Shovel Company would grow to be the largest — as far as the owners and many of their customers were concerned — the finest shovel manufacturer in the country.
The early nineteenth century was a good time to be in the business of making shovels and picks. The new nation was expanding at a rapid rate; major public works projects — roads, bridges, canals — relied on manual labor, which meant a growing demand for hand tools.