Industrial Time Capsule

May 23, 1994

Technological change is so rapid these days that long-standing jobs and work traditions are vanishing. In printing, computers have replaced Linotype machines. In shipping, containers have changed the way stevedores work. Such transformations are documented at the Baltimore Museum of Industry along Key Highway. Over the past 17 years, this museum has grown into an informative collection that explains how Baltimore developed.

Major changes are occurring at the museum. The most visible is its expansion to an adjoining two-acre parcel that once belonged to the Hercules Ship Building Co. A waterfront park, complete with a picnic pavilion, will be built there. Once it is ready, the museum plans to sponsor concerts and other outdoor events. A 1945 neo-colonial office building nearby will be restored.

Ultimately, the museum would want to expand to a property that now houses the city fire department's repair shop.

"We have a pretty outstanding collection," museum director Dennis Zembala remarked the other day, while standing beneath a Baltimore-made 1935 Martin sea plane hanging from the ceiling.

It is among the cornucopia of products housed in the museum. Its newest exhibit documents the history of Baltimore's old Holzapfel Violin Shop. Among half a dozen other major exhibits are an operating garment shop and a cannery. Baltimore, after all, once was an important canning center (the tin can was invented here). After "working" in the cannery, children can drop by a "company store" and "buy" items at 1880s prices. A washboard goes for 43 cents, a coal shovel for 9 cents. (A typical daily wage in those days was $1-$1.50).

The museum is also the repository of records of more than 100 now-defunct local companies and thousands of photographs and old film footage.

Expansion of the museum coincides with major road construction work on Key Highway, which will be turned into a landscaped boulevard. This may temporarily inconvenience some visitors coming by car. But as the museum is on the regular route of a water shuttle service, it can be reached easily from the Inner Harbor.

The museum is in the midst of a $4 million fund-raising campaign. We urge readers to visit the museum and learn about the city's development, and to consider the value of a place that recalls where Baltimore's been.

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