The backyard game of horseshoes is quintessentially American. So it’s apropos that the last large-scale manufacturer of horseshoes is still forging away in Worcester, despite competition from cheap cast steel imports. St. Pierre Manufacturing – which has made horseshoes for presidents Truman, Bush senior and others – carries on a nearly century-long family business, making authentic drop-forged shoe and stake kits that are sanctioned by the sport’s governing body, National Horseshoe Pitchers’ Association (NHPA).
“Not to be confused with equestrian horseshoes, pitching horseshoes are much heavier – 2 pounds, 10 ounces– and have to adhere to specific dimensional constraints, like a certain opening size,” said third-generation proprietor Peter St. Pierre. St. Pierre spoke with Globe corespondent Cindy Atoji Keene about small manufacturing in central Massachusetts.
“Many cheaper horseshoes are made in China through a casting process that heats the steel to liquid then pours it into molds. Air pockets can develop; the horseshoes are not as strong and tend to break when they’re thrown 40 feet away at a stake.”
“St. Pierre Manufacturing is the largest U.S. manufacturer of pitching horseshoes – the company was started by my grandfather in the 1920s. He was an inventor who came to Worcester because of its industrial base and started a company that made tire chains during the war. He always enjoyed the game of horseshoes and because he had some drop-forge presses with excess capacity, he decided to create horseshoes.”
“He helped organize the governing body, National Horseshoe Pitchers’ Association, and standardize the game rules. Now there are pitching leagues all over the country; it’s been a steady outdoor game over the years. At full capacity we can make nine thousand shoes a day. This is an old-school business on the site of the family farm. We have giant hunks of machinery, huge flywheels, over-head lifting cranes, hydraulic presses, and tumbling machines. So it’s fairly noisy in the plant. Our company has been in Worcester for a long time but Massachusetts is not an easy place for anyone running a manufacturing company. Still, we are committed to being here. Sometimes it just takes old-fashioned Yankee ingenuity to get things done.”