Baltimore has been home to a number of important inventions over the last several centuries; among them rubber surgical gloves, telephone poles and the Ouija board. Perhaps few of these innovations have had as widespread of an influence as the crown cap closure. Invented in 1890 and patented in 1892 by William Painter as a device for capping carbonated beverage bottles, crown caps became one of the world’s first successful disposable products. In his patent application, Painter stated “… I have devised metallic sealing-caps embodying certain novel characteristics which render them highly effective and so inexpensive as to warrant throwing them away after a single use thereof..” (US Patent Office 1890). Continue reading
This charming little 10-sided plate, measuring a mere 4″ in diameter, was discovered at the Federal Reserve Site (18BC27) in a privy filled with household garbage between 1850 and 1870. It was most likely a giveaway by Levering & Brothers, located on Lombard Street in Baltimore. This business began as Levering Brothers in 1852 and later became known as Levering and Brothers (Walthall 2013).
The printed text in the well of the plate proudly proclaims Levering & Bro. as “Importers of China Glass and Queens Ware also Window Glass & Stone Ware at Factory Prices.” This little plate is not quite as elaborate as a circa 1856 Levering platter owned by Winterthur Museum; it shows a wide range of printed earthenware (jugs, coffee pots, tureens, and a chamberpot), a glass decanter and several lighting fixtures (Winterthur 1956.0015). These two pieces may have been giveaways to stores who purchased their ceramics and glass for resale (Miller, personal communication 2016).
Ceramics from Great Britain, and particularly earthenware produced in the Staffordshire region, had long graced the tables of American citizens. The two Baltimore advertising plates show that English pottery manufacturers still enjoyed a ready market in the United States in the second half of the 19th century. While a number of pottery manufactories operated in Baltimore in the 19th century, most produced more utilitarian earthen and stoneware, and not refined tablewares. Therefore, it was necessary to maintain relationships with the British producers of ceramics and glass.
Ceramic importers, like Levering and Brothers, ordered wares they thought would be in demand with their American customers (Ewins 1997, Miller and Earls 2008:70). Many of these wares would be resold to country stores. In 1850, Baltimore was the second largest city in the nation, and its harbor served as an important point of entry for imported goods from all over the world. With three railroad lines running from the city by 1850 and a fourth (the Western Maryland Railway) about to begin construction, it was also a major point of departure for those same goods to travel west and north to eager consumers. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that North American potteries in West Virginia, New Jersey and Ohio began to supersede the British hold on the American ceramic market.
Ewins, Neil. 1997 “Supplying the Present Wants of Our Yankee Cousins …”: Staffordshire Ceramics and the American Market 1775-1880. Journal of Ceramic History. 15 .
Miller, George L. 2016 Personal communication.
Walthall, John. 2013 Queensware Direct from the Potteries; U.S. Importers of Staffordshire Ceramics in Antebellum America, 1820-1860. The Illinois State Archaeological Survey Champaign-Urbana and the Transferware Collectors Club, San Francisco. Studies in Archaeological Material Culture No. 1.
Resting for many years deep in the silt at the bottom of the Patapsco River, adjacent to Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, this 12 pound cannonball’s underwater fate belies its brief moment of glory. For this cannonball was fired during the momentous battle that led to the genesis of our country’s national anthem.
We all know the story from our elementary school days. Francis Scott Key, a Maryland-born lawyer, was inspired by the sight of the U. S. flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the September 1814 Battle of Baltimore. Although British shells rained down relentlessly for 25 hours, the fort held (Lineberry 2007). Key, watching the battle throughout the night from about eight miles away, was relieved to see in “the dawn’s early light” the American flag flying above the fort – a sign of American victory. Later that morning, Key penned a poem he entitled “The Defence of Fort McHenry.” Within a month, it had been published in at least nineteen American newspapers (NMAH 2016). Key himself set the poem to music, using a popular English melody written around 1775 and entitled “To Anacreon in Heaven”. The first documented public performance of Key’s work set to music occurred on October 19, 1814 at the Holiday Street Theater in Baltimore (SI 2016). The song was later retitled “The Star Spangled Banner”. Although it was a popular patriotic song throughout the nineteenth century, “The Star Spangled Banner” did not become our country’s national anthem until 1931.
This carved ivory object, recovered from a Baltimore privy filled in the mid-19th century, is an inkhorn and once formed part of a traveling writing kit known as a penner. In the age before the instant communication of telephone and email, the best way to reach out to people who were far away was to write and post a letter. This mode of communication, while effective, had some drawbacks. It required an ability to read and write (or a friend willing to pen your letter) and the delivery took time. These missives could take days, weeks or even months to reach their intended audience.
Rapid communication took an enormous leap forward in the year 1844, when Samuel F. B. Morse sent the first long distance telegraph message from Washington DC to the Mount Clare Railway Station in Baltimore. The year prior, Congress had allocated a sum of $30,000 for Morse to construct an electric telegraph line stretching forty miles between these two cities, after he successfully demonstrated the system between the Senate and House wings of the US Capitol (Chamber 2016). Upon its completion in May of 1844, Morse and his partner, Alfred Vail, sent the first official telegraphic transmission. They used a quote from the book of Numbers (23:23) in the Bible: “What hath God wrought?” That same day, messages sent from the Democratic convention in Baltimore let members of Congress know that James K. Polk had received the Democratic presidential nomination. Baltimore newspapers became the first in the nation to include news stories sent by telegraph. Continue reading
Love and Valentine’s Day are in the air, and this topic, although popular, seemed timely. In the early 20th century, the Cecil County town of Elkton became known as the East Coast’s version of England’s Gretna Green. For all you Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice fans, Gretna Green is where Elizabeth Bennett believed her careless sister Lydia was headed for a quickie wedding with the ne‘er-do-well Colonel Wickham. That trip did not turn out so well for Lydia Bennett, but Elkton was likely the birthplace of many a happy marriage during its quarter century heyday as the wedding capitol of Maryland.
Location and timing played key roles in Elkton becoming an elopement epicenter. In 1913, Delaware passed mandatory waiting and public notification laws for marriage. Maryland had no such laws in place and Elkton’s location in the northeastern portion of the state made it the county seat closest to a number of major urban areas, like New York and Philadelphia, whose states also had waiting periods. The new Delaware law began twenty-five years of couples arriving by train or streaming south along Route 1 to take advantage of Maryland’s no-wait laws. Continue reading
Quenching one’s thirst with a mug of ale or hard cider was a fitting end to a long day in court in the colonial period. Taverns and ordinaries, often located near courthouses, were the scenes of celebrations as well sadder occasions for individuals drowning their sorrows after an unwanted legal outcome. A fragment from a Nottingham-type English stoneware mug, recovered from the site of the first courthouse in Charles County, Maryland, was probably witness to many such revelries or disappointing endings.
A beautifully detailed plat map prepared in 1697 depicts the first Charles County courthouse. Standing in a cluster of buildings, including an ordinary, several outbuildings, a fenced orchard and a set of stocks, this timber-framed structure was graced with a porch tower and glass windows. It served as the courthouse from 1674 until its abandonment in 1727, when the location of the county court was moved to nearby Port Tobacco. The courthouse was demolished for salvage in 1731 (King et al. 2008b) and over time, as the other buildings disappeared and people’s memories of them faded, the location of this first courthouse was lost. Continue reading
Domino Sugar, with its iconic neon sign, has been a Baltimore institution for over 90 years. The plant was built in 1922, but Baltimore’s sugar history extends back to the late eighteenth century. After becoming a major port of entry for raw sugar during the Revolutionary War, Baltimore took its place as a regional center for sugar production, with eleven refineries in operation by around 1825 (Williams et al. 2000; Magid 2005). Similar refineries in Washington D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia were all established in the early nineteenth century in reaction to international trade restrictions imposed by the Napoleonic Wars (Williams et al. 2000:279).
Among the archaeological collections curated at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab is an assemblage from the sugar processing plant owned by Augustus Shutt and John Tool, in operation between 1804 and 1829 on Green (now Exeter) Street in Baltimore (Magid 2005). Continue reading