With a gritty mix of shipyards, vessels and docks combined with industrial-strength personalities who worked these enterprises, our nation’s ports are rich with history.
All this is especially so for the port of Baltimore, which celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2006. Commemorating this occasion is a handsome book that chronicles the history of the port. Called “The Great Port of Baltimore, Its First 300 Years,” the book was written by Helen Delich Bentley and F. Key Kidder.
Bentley, an ex-congresswoman from Maryland and former chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, has a long history with the port and is generally considered its godmother. Bentley’s importance to the port was officially recognized last June when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced that the port would be renamed the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore.
In their book, Bentley and Kidder present a history that shows the deep connections between the port and the area’s economy. In the first chapter, they write, “The port’s undercurrent surges beyond the docks, sweeps through downtown, and widens as it moves out across the state, bathing business and industry, washing over Maryland culture, engaging all through dozens of points of contact each and every day – even as most people outside the maritime community are clueless about an industry which is largely out of sight, and out of mind.”
The 63 chapters cover everything from the early importance of tobacco (“sotte weed”) to wartime shipbuilding to the development of roll-on/roll-off and container facilities.
In addition to the book’s written history, The Great Port of Baltimore offers a comprehensive collection of photos. Many are pulled from historical archives and many were taken especially for the book. WorkBoat correspondent Kathy Bergren Smith took most of the contemporary photographs and was the book’s photo editor.