Hampden Heritage

Archaeology, History, and Heritage in Central Baltimore

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bob's Dissertation, Chapter 1 Part 4

**Note: I have left out a section of this chapter that comes between the end of my last post and the beginning of this one. The omitted section includes a brief outline of Hampden-Woodberry's 19th century history that would be familiar to anyone who has read Bill Harvey's excellent book, The People Is Grass, as well as some basic information on Hampden's ethnic/racial composition during this period.**

As with many northern and midwestern industrial cities, World War II pulled Baltimore out of the doldrums of the Great Depression. During and after the war, the federal government encouraged the consolidation of Baltimore industry into the shipbuilding, steel and airplane manufacturing industries. Large corporations such as Westinghouse, Bethlehem Steel, and the Martin Company retooled their physical plants for a peacetime war economy. By 1972, for instance, the aerospace industry in Maryland was worth $1 billion a year. The port of Baltimore continued to be a vital cog in international trade, connecting to new frontiers of global capital. At the same time, local corporations were swallowed up into ever larger global firms, and the federal government began directing military and transportation investments to other parts of the country. Geographer Sherry Olson has described Baltimore's situation thus: "Baltimore capital was being invested on the frontiers, and Baltimoreans received dividends, but the headquarters for channeling and managing these investments were not found in Baltimore. . . . Thus, Baltimore was neither frontier nor center, and its growth was hemmed in globally" (Olson 1997:350-355; quote on pg. 352).

The gleaming fa├žade of industrial prosperity had already begun to crack, however, in the 1920s, when the textile industry began its slow withdrawal from the city. Following an enormously bitter and costly strike at the Mt. Vernon-Woodberry Mills in Hampden-Woodberry in 1923, which broke the local United Textile Workers of America union, the company began closing down its Baltimore operations in 1925 in favor of its southern plants in Alabama and South Carolina, which provided cheaper (i.e. non-unionized) labor (Bill Harvey 1988:34-35). The Hooper Sons' Manufacturing Company, successor to Wm. E. Hooper & Sons Co., attempted to revive its business by developing new cotton duck products, particularly "Fire Chief," a fire- and mildew-resistant form of cotton duck that the company patented in 1936 (Anonymous 1950:20-21). Nevertheless, and despite a brief renaissance during World War II (again due to wartime demands on industry), the local mills had mostly gone out of business by the mid-1950s. The Hooper mills shut their doors in 1961 and the last Mt. Vernon Mills operation in Hampden-Woodberry closed its doors in 1972, putting a mere 300 remaining employees out of work (Bill Harvey 1988:34-35).

At the same time as the metropolitan economy was being consolidated in particular industries, then, the industrial base in Hampden-Woodberry was diversifying in response to the closing of the mills. The Noxzema Chemical Company opened a plant on the southern edge of Hampden in 1926 (Chalkley 2006:45-58), as did Stieff Company, Silversmiths (Anonymous 1924). Also in the mid-1920s, the Woodberry Mill was bought by the Schenuit company and converted to a tire factory (Anonymous 1925a, 1926); the Park Mill became home to Bes-Cone, maker of ice cream cones (Anonymous 1925b, 1926); and yet another one of the old textile mills was converted to the manufacture of paper products (Anonymous 1925, 1927). The Park Mill later became home to the Commercial Envelope Corporation (Anonymous 1972). The Poole & Hunt Foundry was bought by the Balmar Corporation around mid-century, and it continued to produce railroad cars and missile components for several decades. By the 1970s the Clipper Mill had become the Sekine Brush Company. Meadow Mill, whose construction had signaled the beginning of Hampden-Woodberry's industrial prosperity in the early 1870s, was for a time inhabited by the Londontowne Corporation, manufacturer of the upscale London Fog brand of raincoats. Londontowne closed the factory in 1989. The old Druid Mill became home to Life Like Products, which still produces model train parts and Styrofoam coolers there (Chalkley 2006:45-58, 74-76, 117). Right next door, Pepsi installed a bottling and distribution plant. Many Hampden-Woodberry residents, however, had to find local service sector jobs or industrial jobs in other parts of the city, such as Sparrows Point.

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