Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bob's Dissertation, Chapter 1 Part 3

From Rural Mill Village to Urban Community: Hampden-Woodberry in Baltimore

While numerous other industries appeared in Maryland during the 19th century, textiles soon became the state's most important product as the flour milling industry declined. Growing out of the colonial mode of household production, Baltimore's first cotton mills opened late in the first decade of the 19th century; by 1810 there were 11 cotton or woolen mills listed in the state manufacturing census. As with the flour trade, the Baltimore City region was uniquely situated for a profitable textile industry, with the Jones Falls, the Gwynns Falls, and the Patapsco rivers all providing waterpower, and the Gunpowder Falls not far away. With the introduction of steam power in the 1810s, textile operations became even more widespread despite the national economic hardships of the decade. By the mid-1820s, the growth of the textile industry had made Maryland the largest manufacturing state in the South. About the same time, many of the cotton mills began specializing in the production of cotton duck, or sailcloth, to serve the local market created by the clipper ships that clogged Baltimore's harbor due to its status as a premier port of trade. In the 1850 Census of Manufactures, Maryland was ranked eighth among the 35 states in cotton manufacturing output (valued at $2 million), and fourth in the average number of employees per company (Clendenning 1992; Griffin 1966).

During the middle decades of the 19th century Baltimore began to undergo dramatic expansion. Large-scale manufacturing activities began to emerge, and the city's spatial organization and social geography were altered accordingly. Whereas previously, Baltimore's spatial organization had been typical of a North American mercantile city, the growth of productive industries resulted in the increasing clustering of similar industries, commercial activities, and social groups (divided along class and ethnic lines) into discernible districts. Most of the industries that flourished were tied to the city's commercial economy, such as textile mills, iron goods, agricultural processing (flour before mid-century, canned oysters and vegetables later in the 1800s), brickyards, breweries, and tanneries, among others. By 1860, the single most important industry in Baltimore (both in terms of output and employment) was the production of ready-made clothing, which employed about one third of the city's industrial workforce. The needle trade operations were organized in a number of ways, including large-scale factories and the putting-out, or contracting, system, which resulted in the well-known phenomenon of sweatshops. Employing a cheap labor force of unskilled immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe beginning in the 1870s, Baltimore's men's clothing industry was ranked fourth in the United States by 1900 (Muller and Groves 1976, 1979).

Throughout the rest of the 19th century and up through the 1950s, Baltimore experienced periodic booms during which the city's economy, population, and geographical area grew at a fast pace. Most of this development occurred in concentric rings around the core business district, just north and west of the harbor. Previous scholars have attributed this growth largely to periods of high capital investment following the introduction of new production and transportation technologies. Comparing the growth of Baltimore to the growth of a biological organism, geographer Sherry Olson noted, "In each generation a boost in the city's exchange with the outside world was matched by changes in its metabolism, and followed by changes in its morphology" (Olson 1979:561). The most important changes in physical morphology included annexations (two particularly important annexations occurred in 1888 and 1918; see Arnold 1978), the construction of more railroads, and the growth of industrial villages and company towns in surrounding Baltimore County in response to the increasing importance of extractive and productive industries there (Chidester 2004). European immigration was the largest factor in the changing social morphology of both the city and the county. Furthermore, during each investment boom and the subsequent period of "lean" years, as Olson demonstrated, the "redistributive impact of growth" resulted in the regeneration of a basic structure of social inequality, as previous immigrants to the city climbed the social ladder, only to be replaced by even more poor and desperate newcomers (Olson 1979:567-568).


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