Photograph of the Baltimore Skyline labeled Happy Birthday Baltimore

Topics: Baltimore | History | Northeast Maglev | Transportation

Happy Birthday, Baltimore!

In honor of Baltimore’s 293rd Birthday, Northeast Maglev has decided to take a look at the history of the beautiful city where we are proudly headquartered. Baltimore’s rich history and contribution to rail are just a few elements that make the city so legendary. Join us on this trip back in time to celebrate Baltimore’s past, present, and future!

Baltimore’s Beginning: 1600s-1800s

Before Europeans settled in the area that we now know as Baltimore, the Susquehannock Tribe used the area as hunting grounds and a buffer between their tribe and the Powhatan Confederacy in the Potomac region to the south. Captain John Smith, of Jamestown notoriety, explored the Chesapeake and the Patapsco River in 1608 and deemed the area fruitful for farming. Upon hearing of the opportunities in the region and wanting to flee from religious tensions, a group of Catholic settlers led by Cecil Calvert (who was later known as the 2nd Lord Baltimore), set sail from England in late November 1633. After a difficult voyage, their two ships, Ark and Dove, arrived in Maryland on January 3, 1634 – 42 days after they left.

The Port of Baltimore, today’s Inner Harbor, was created in 1706 and expanded southeast to the settlement later known as Fells Point. The area was established as a port of entry and quickly became a major port and shipbuilding center. The Maryland General Assembly formally established the Town of Baltimore on July 30, 1729. The town was further enlarged in 1745, when the General Assembly merged Baltimore Town with Jones Town, a neighbor of Baltimore Town that was situated on the east bank of the Jones Falls and named after early European settler David Jones. Eventually, Baltimore Town united all the communities around it, and in 1797, Baltimore Town finally merged with Fells Point and was incorporated as the City of Baltimore.

During the American Revolution, the Second Continental Congress temporarily fled from Philadelphia and held sessions in Baltimore between December 1776 and February 1777, making Baltimore the capital of America for a brief time. Although no major battles were fought in Baltimore during the Revolution, it played a key role in not only administration but also shipping and supplies acquisition.

The War of 1812

The 1800s marked a period of growth for Baltimore, but also a period of tremendous unrest. War found its way to Baltimore – not once, but twice – with both the War of 1812 and the American Civil War (which is discussed later in this blog post). The city found itself at the epicenter of the War of 1812 during the famous Battle of Baltimore. After burning Washington, D.C., the British attacked the eastern outskirts of Baltimore at the Battle of North Point, and then set their sights on the city itself.

Over the course of two nights and consistent bombardment, troops at Fort McHenry successfully defended the city’s harbor from the British. On the morning of September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote the famous poem-turned national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, when he stood aboard a ship and saw the American flag still raised over Fort McHenry, a signal of the city’s triumph.

Baltimore as the Birthplace of U.S. Rail

Despite great turmoil in the early 1800s, Baltimore continued to grow and prosper. The city’s deep harbor and shipping channels played a major role in developing its economy; the size and depth of the ports allowed large hull ships to come very far inland to deliver their wares, which was very appealing to traders.

But the harbor was not Baltimore’s only attractive economic asset. In 1829, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company (B&O) became America’s first commercial railroad, and operated a massively successful railroad manufacturing complex in the United States. Seemingly overnight, the city of Baltimore and America’s rail system became so intertwined that the railroad industry become embedded into the fabric of the city, which made great contributions to industrialization in the nation.

B&O’s Mount Clare Station is the birthplace of American railroading, as it was the first site with regular railroad passenger service. The first rail section, which opened in May 1830, ran from the west side of Baltimore to Ellicott’s Mills (now known as Ellicott City). These initial rail sections were dependent on horse power – literal horses – as the company was still experimenting with steam locomotives to bring into commercial operation. One of these tests resulted in the successful steam locomotive, Tom Thumb, in 1829 (although it underwent another year of trials before being brought into service). To the amazement of the passengers, the Tom Thumb locomotive, named after its small size and weight, traveled at an impressive speed of around 13mph.

On December 24, 1852, the B&O became the first rail line to reach the Ohio River from the Eastern Seaboard. The B&O went on to merge with its former rival, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C&O), to create The Chessie System. Eventually, the Chessie System merged with the Seaboard System Railroad to create CSX in 1987, with the letters “CSX” referring to “Chessie,” Seaboard,” and the X as a multiplication symbol representing “together, we are so much more.”

Baltimore – and America – divided

Unfortunately, great strides in industrialization and railroading did not make the city exempt from the turbulence that came with the Civil War era and beyond. The location of Baltimore created a city of contrasts, as it hung on the divide between the North and the South. On the eve of the Civil War, Baltimore had the largest free black community in the nation, and for many, Baltimore acted as a means to freedom in the north, with the Mt. Clare Station as a stop on the underground railroad. The city also had the feel of a northern city, with its focus on industry and manufacturing, but many social and political elites sided with the Confederacy and owned slaves.

The first bloodshed in the Civil War happened on the streets of Baltimore. The Pratt Street Riot of 1861, as it came to be called, resulted in four soldiers and over a dozen civilians killed. Union troops were eventually called in to keep order in the city and prevent further sabotage from Confederate sympathizers. Baltimore ultimately became the location many injured soldiers went for medical care, with city officials turning churches, hotels, warehouses, and parks into hospitals.

That same year, Baltimore was the site of a conspiracy to assassinate then President-elect Abraham Lincoln as he traveled to D.C. for his inauguration. Harry W. Davies, an agent with the famed Pinkerton National Detective Agency, alerted Founder Allan Pinkerton of the plot to embed several armed men. Allan had been commissioned by the B&O Railway to provide security for Lincoln’s trip, and convinced Lincoln to alter his travel schedule to avoid the would-be assassins in Baltimore. Allan also had the telegram lines cut between Harrisburg, Penn. and Baltimore to prevent communication between the conspirators. While this plot was successfully averted, Lincoln was famously assassinated in 1865 by John Wilkes Boothe in Washington, D.C.

Before and after the Civil War, Baltimore had a larger population of African Americans than any northern city, and the state abolished slavery in 1864. In 1866, Isaac Myers, a successful African American entrepreneur, organized a group of white and black businessmen to establish the Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company. The company, located in Fells Point, was unique in that it employed both white and black workers. Myers went on to establish the Colored Caulkers Trade Union Society in 1868, which was instrumental in establishing black trade unions to ensure equality in hiring and pay.

Despite the end of the war and the continuing economic growth of the city’s economy, Baltimore found itself at the center of another moment of great unrest, and this time it was not a result of war or national politics. In the Baltimore Railroad Strike of 1877, workers of the B&O Railroad rebelled against salary cuts and successfully shut down operations across the railroad network. What was supposed to be a peaceful protest resulted in extreme violence and chaos between the workers and the state militia. By the time President Rutherford B. Hayes sent in federal troops to restore order, over a dozen people were dead and more than 150 people were injured.

The Baltimore Railroad Strike was not the only one of its kind, and was just one of many strikes occurring across the nation. What began as peaceful actions of organized labor often turned into riots and chaos. But as the 1800s came to a close, the city attempted to enjoy a calmer period of order and steady economic growth. Unfortunately, they had no idea what was waiting for them just four years after the turn of the century.

Rising from the Ashes

The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 raged throughout the city, decimating over 1,500 buildings and spanning over 70 blocks. But the fire inspired nationwide fire protection protocols, and within only weeks of the tragedy, Baltimore adopted city-wide building codes and the National Fire Protection Association enforced a national standard for fire hydrant and hose connections.

One of the buildings that was destroyed in the Great Baltimore Fire was the property that is the current headquarters of Northeast Maglev, located on S Gay Street. Preceding the fire, the building was home to the Carrie A. Nation Woman Suffrage movement and also a part of the underground railroad. Following the fire, the property joined with its neighboring building to become a fire station: Engine Company Number 6 Firehouse. Today, Northeast Maglev is proud to represent such complex, strong, and historic Baltimore landmark, and many station elements of the building remain, like the bright red doors and the remarkable tiling.

As the city rebuilt from the fire, it also started to rapidly expand, both in population and area. Developers began to form greater suburban areas and neighborhoods. Most African Americans, however, were excluded from this expansion, with the City Council passing ordinances forbidding them to move to white neighborhoods. Although these were eventually overturned, these laws represented the systemic and codified racism in the city and government and continue to impact the lives of thousands today. The Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded in 1913. The branch would later grow to be the nation’s second largest and one of the most influential in the Civil Rights Movement, with the NAACP moving its national headquarters from New York City to Baltimore in 1986.

By the 1930s, many of Baltimore’s notable institutions had been created, like the Baltimore Museum of Art, Lyric Opera House, and Maryland Institute College of Art. In 1935, NAACP lawyers Charles Houston and Baltimore native Thurgood Marshall won the legal battle to admit a black student to the University of Maryland.

Becoming the Baltimore We Know Today

The post-World War II era left many Baltimoreans eager to raise families, and the city’s population began its gradual decline. Thus began the reinvention of downtown Baltimore, and in 1964, the City dreamt up the vision of the Inner Harbor: a public space complete with buildings, hotels, amphitheaters, playgrounds, and more, all connected by a waterfront promenade. The Inner Harbor today still hosts some of Baltimore’s most famous attractions, such as the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, and Power Plant. Just earlier this year, in April 2022, lawmakers announced a $166 million investment to revitalize the Inner Harbor, which promises more open space, more gardens, and hopes to bring more business to the area.

Baltimore’s rich history is a testament to the city’s strength, diversity, and potential. Despite the city’s fires, both literal and figurative, it is home to world-renowned medical institutions, over a dozen universities, and is brimming with creativity, diversity, and innovation. Northeast Maglev is proud to call Baltimore home, and we are inspired by the city’s perseverance and reinvention in the face of adversity. We hope the introduction of the superconducting maglev will again put the city on the world stage and allow many more people to experience all that it has to offer. Happy birthday, Baltimore – here’s to many more.

Now more than ever, Northeast Maglev believes that by working together we can do big things. Keep track of what we’re up to by following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.