Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Five Questions with the Baltimore Museum of Industry

Baltimore, Maryland

The exterior of the Baltimore Museum of Industry. The Whirley Crane featured outside was used by Bethlehem Steel to build ships. Photo courtesy of the museum

Most people know of Baltimore as the largest city in Maryland. Maybe they also think of it as a port city, thanks to the vibrant Inner Harbor. But did you know the city was once a major source of industry and manufacturing? At the Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI), you can explore 100,000 objects that show how the history of the railroad, printing, and manufacturing evolved within Charm City. Housed in an old oyster cannery, the museum itself is an artifact from the city's manufacturing boom. We spoke with the BMI's Catherine Scott via e-mail to learn more about this fascinating peek into Baltimore's industrial legacy.

NEA: In your opinion, what makes the Baltimore Museum of Industry unique?

CATHERINE SCOTT: We inform people of the rich industrial heritage of the city, which was first in everything from rail passage (B&O Railroad was the first commercial railroad in the USA) to the manufacture of service uniforms dating from the Revolutionary War to WWII. We are also housed in the oldest oyster cannery building known to exist, which is still on the Inner Harbor of Baltimore.

The Decker Gallery at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photo courtesy of the museum

NEA: Can you tell me about the different exhibitions available at the museum?

SCOTT: The main exhibits are the Cannery (recently updated), the Print Shop, Garment Loft, and Machine Shop. In each of these galleries, restored machinery is demonstrated on daily tours by our museum educators. We also have a transportation gallery, a food processing gallery, the Paint Shop, Communications, and a Sheet Metal Gallery. These galleries are object heavy, and have plenty of text and photographs to help interpret the galleries.

NEA: What’s your favorite part of the museum? Why?

SCOTT: My personal favorite is the Print Shop. The first printing press shown is an Acorn Press from 1828 that is demonstrated to show the progression of the history of print…from movable type to the linotype machine, which was invented in Baltimore. Our volunteer Ray Loomis operates the linotype on weekends and by special request for groups. Mr. Loomis went to the Mergenthaler School many years ago. Mr. Mergenthaler’s Linotype was called “The 8th wonder of the world” by Thomas Edison and until the 1980s, it was the most advanced way to print. The computer age took over at The Baltimore Sun in the 1980s, making the linotype obsolete.

The recently refurbished Cannery Exhibit. The museum is housed in an old oyster cannery that was called Platt and Co. and was opened in 1864 by Landra Beach Platt. This exhibit is in the actual cannery portion of the building. Both the floors and brick walls are original. Photo courtesy of the museum

NEA: Do you have any favorite Baltimore history anecdotes related to the museum collection?

SCOTT: My favorite anecdote that relates to the history of the museum would be the story of Mary Katherine Goddard. Ms. Goddard moved to Baltimore from Philadelphia with her brother William, who opened one of the largest print shops in the colonies. Ms. Goddard and her brother published the first newspaper in Baltimore (The Maryland Journal) and during much of the Revolutionary War, she was the only printer in Baltimore. In January of 1775, she became the first female postmaster in the colonies and was the first to publish the Declaration of Independence, including the names of the signers.

NEA: What do you hope visitors take away from their experience at the Museum of Industry?

SCOTT: I would hope visitors would leave with a better understanding of how important Baltimore and the state of Maryland was in the development of the United States of America, especially during the American Age of Industrialization.

Baltimore Museum of Industry
1415 Key Highway
Baltimore, Maryland 21230

Please visit the Blue Star Museums website for more information about the program and to find participating museums.

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