In wartime, Baltimore toiled for Allied cause

June 07, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

It sounds like a pretty dull way to fight a war -- string beans, radio crystal cutters and ship's telegraphs.

When Baltimore went to war 50 years ago, thousands worked swing shifts and weekends in hundreds of neighborhood plants to supply the military.

We had our share of glamorous wartime giant firms -- Glenn L. Martin, Bendix Radio, Rustless Iron and Steel, Koppers, Black and Decker, Bethlehem Steel, Maryland Drydock and the non-stop railroads.

But all over the region, women and men rose before daylight to toil for the Allied cause.

The Edward Renneburg and Sons factory at Boston Street and Lakewood Avenue (today a luxury apartment building) got an urgent request to build equipment for fish meal plants in Iceland. As a result, half of Iceland's fish oil was made into glycerine for England's munitions plants.

Also on Boston Street, the Continental Can Co. (today's Tindeco Wharf and Canton Cove apartments) made airplane starter cartridges, Chemical Warfare Service ointment cases and links for machine gun belts.

In Fells Point, Lord-Mott, at the foot of Fell Street, packed more string beans than any other U.S. canner. It sent 454,000 cases of No. 10 cans each year to the front lines.

The cans that rolled through the Crosse and Blackwell Co. plant on Eastern Avenue were filled with military rations -- puddings, marmalade, preserves, sauces and tomato products.

Nearly every neighborhood was drafted into wartime production.

The select jewelry shop of Oscar Caplan and Sons, 207 W. Saratoga St., in the old downtown shopping district, fought the war by making diamond dust-impregnated discs used for splicing the radio quartz crystals then used in frequency control.

In Mount Vernon, just across from a very busy Hotel Belvedere at Charles and Chase, the Hynson, Westcott and Dunning drug firm (today this building is an advertising agency) came up with a shaker package of sulfanilamide to be sprinkled over combat wounds. It became a standard item in soldiers' first aid kits. It also supplied the Army and Navy with Mecurochrome. Dr. H.A.B. Dunning, the firm's president, worked on atomic bomb research.

Most Baltimoreans associate the old McCormick and Co. plant on Light Street with spice milling, especially cinnamon. After Pearl Harbor, it turned out four DDT products -- a spray to control flies; a delousing spray used on prisoners of war; a delousing powder for servicemen; and a larvacide dust for prevention of malaria.

Who hasn't watched a World War II film where the captain barks "Full speed ahead!" and an officer yanks the handle on a ship's telegraph. The six employees of the Kirk Habicht Co. at 106 S. Calvert St. made these devices and ship's telegraph and bell systems.

Dependable Motor Tours' buses rolled out of its Howard Street garage in Remington to haul workers to and from Edgewood Arsenal, with stops at Oak Grove, Poplar, White Marsh, Loreley, Bradshaw, Joppa, Magnolia and Van Bibber and Baltimore.

In Woodberry, the J. Sekine factory made toothbrushes in its ancient factory on Clipper Mill Road.

The Frank G. Schenuit Rubber Co, also in Woodberry, molded tires for airplanes -- the P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-38 Lightning. The lights were never turned off at the Mt. Vernon-Woodberry canvas weaving mills. These old Jones Falls Valley textile mills also loomed a special nylon shoe duck, the only material which would withstand the fungus growths that were a problem in the Pacific.

In Waverly, Samuel Kirk and Sons, known in peacetime for its fancy silver punch ladles and pickle forks, made a vinylite disc for jamming enemy radio signals at its 25th Street plant.

Today the former L. Greif and Brother garment-making factory is the site of some fairly pricey Homeland Avenue townhouses.

During the war, Greif halted production of men's suits and made wool doeskin overcoats for aviation cadets, wool melton-style coats for officers, and assorted khaki trousers -- wool serge, cotton and tropical worsted.

Even the Bay's oyster harvest went to war. Galesville's Woodfield Fish and Oyster Co. sent 60 percent of its products to military camps -- about 50,000 gallons of oysters and 75,000 pounds of headless cleaned rockfish.

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