Keeping Clean in Charm City – The Rise of the Public Bathhouse in Baltimore


Figure 1. Perfume bottle molded in the shape of a wicker covered demijohn.  Bottle dates c. 1845-1865.

This tiny and incredibly fragile perfume bottle, discovered in a Baltimore privy during the 1980 excavation at the future site of the Federal Reserve Bank, was made by the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company of Sandwich, Massachusetts (Boston and Sandwich 2017). The company operated between the years 1826 and 1888, producing blown and pressed glass containers (Barlow and Kaiser 1998).  Measuring only three inches tall, this bottle was molded in the shape of a much larger bottle called a carboy or demijohn. These bottles, ranging in size from 5 to 16 gallons and used to transport bulk liquids like vinegar or acid, were covered in woven wicker to prevent breakage. This little cologne bottle, with its wicker molded surface, dates between circa 1845 and 1865.


Figure 2. Bathing before the advent of running water and plumbing involved hauling and heating large quantities of water. 

In Victorian America, personal cleanliness was viewed as a symbol of upstanding character and self-respect.  In America’s crowded cities, it was also an important public health matter.  Wearing perfume or toilet water could certainly help cover body odor, but there was much to be said for bathing as a way to improve personal sanitation and health. Before the days of running water and plumbing, many people kept clean through what we would call today a “sponge bath”, using basins of water or small hip baths.  In 1893, only 7.35% of the families in Baltimore lived in a house with an indoor bathroom. Fortunately for the rest of Baltimore’s citizens, public bathing facilities were soon to be a part of the city’s amenities.

Since at least Roman times, public baths have been a feature of urban life, but the public bath movement in North America did not begin until the mid-19th century and it gathered momentum late in that century. In fact, before the Victorian era, many western cultures actually believed that submersion in water would open the pores up to disease and sickness. Increasing immigration from Europe and crowded living situations in American cities created a critical need for public bathing facilities. North American cities were far behind their European counterparts in providing bath houses. The first year-round public bath opened in Yonkers, New York in 1896 (Piwinski 2011).   Baltimore lagged behind cities like New York and Boston, with its first public bath houses, administered by the city, not appearing until the turn of the 20th century (Williams 1991:28).  Continue reading


Keeping it Fizzy for Over a Century: the Crown Cap Closure


Figure 1.  Dessicated cork from Oxon Hill Manor (18PR175). Photo courtesy MAC Lab.

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

Rocket’s Red Glare – The Battle of Baltimore and the Birth of the Star Spangled Banner

12 pounder

Figure 1.  A 12 pound solid shot found during dredging in the Patapsco River near Fort McHenry.

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.


Figure 2.  A View of the Bombardment of Fort McHenry.  Print by J. Bower, Philadelphia, 1816. McHenry. 


Continue reading

The Maryland Jockey Club and the Introduction of Organized Thoroughbred Racing in North America

Iron stirrup recovered from the stable (1711-1730 context) at the Smith St. Leonard site (18CV91).

Iron stirrup recovered from the stable (1711-1730 context) at the Smith St. Leonard site (18CV91).

May and June bring the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing—the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes—and Maryland is proud to claim the Preakness as its own.

Horse racing has a long and storied history in Maryland and this stirrup from the Smith St. Leonard Site (18CV91), a 1711-1754 tobacco plantation in Calvert County, is representative of the state’s long history with horses. This site contains remains of the only known eighteenth-century stable (c. 1711-1730) in Maryland, from which this stirrup was recovered. Estate details from the inventory, taken at the time of plantation owner Richard Smith Jr.’s death in 1715, reveal that he was breeding horses for sale.  The value of the individual horses however indicates they were work, rather than racing, animals (Cohen, personal communication 2010).

This conclusion is perhaps not surprising, since Thoroughbred breeding and racing did not really get underway in Maryland until the mid-eighteenth century; indeed the first Thoroughbred horse in the American Colonies was imported to Virginia in 1730 (Robertson 1964:16). Continue reading

From Hand-Set Type to Linotype and Beyond: Maryland Firsts in the Age of Mass Communication

Figure 1.  Print type in the letter “J” from the Victualling Warehouse site.

Figure 1. Print type in the letter “J” from the Victualling Warehouse site.

This artifact’s diminutive size (3 mm square) belies its importance in Maryland’s history.  I have chosen this piece of type in the form of the letter J to represent the history of printing and mass communication in our state.  This particular artifact is from the Victualling Warehouse (18AP14), a commercial and residential site near the Annapolis town dock.

The first printing press in Maryland, not surprisingly, was located at St. Mary’s City.  William Nuthead and his wife Dinah settled in Maryland in 1684 after Nuthead failed to establish himself at Jamestown as the Virginia colony’s first printer.  Nuthead ran afoul of Virginia’s governor, the Council and ultimately the King by publishing acts of the Virginia General Assembly (Virginia Gazette 2014).

Figure 2.  Historic St. Mary’s City has reconstructed William and Dinah Nuthead’s Print Shop and interprets the early history of printing in the colony to its visitors.  Photo credit:

Figure 2. Historic St. Mary’s City has reconstructed William and Dinah Nuthead’s Print Shop and interprets the early history of printing in the colony to its visitors. Photo credit:

Nuthead’s Maryland printing press was in operation by 1684 and he served as printer for the government, centered then at St. Mary’s City (Cofield 2006).  Archaeological excavations at the site of Nuthead’s shop have uncovered printing type (Saunders 2007).  After Nuthead’s death in 1695, his widow inherited the business (Sarudy 2011).

When the colony’s capital was moved to Annapolis less than a year later, Dinah Nuthead moved with it. There, she established herself as the first licensed female printer in the American colonies (Sarudy 2011).  Widow Nuthead agreed, under penalty of having her business shut down, only to print blank forms for government use.  Interestingly, she signed this agreement with her mark rather than her signature, suggesting that she could not read—a rather unusual state of affairs for the colony’s first female printer! Continue reading

Germans in Maryland

Figure 1:  This 25.5 x 23.5” plate from a five-plate stove is one of eight from the site that bear German or Pennsylvania Dutch motifs.

Figure 1: This 25.5 x 23.5” plate from a five-plate stove is one of eight from the site that bear German or Pennsylvania Dutch motifs.

The Antietam Furnace (18WA288), more properly known as the Mt. Aetna Iron Furnace, operated between around 1761 and 1783 in what is now Washington County. Excavations conducted at the former site of the furnace revealed a number of industrial structures and evidence of the production of pig iron, hollow ware and stoves (Frye 1984).  Some of the most interesting artifacts from the site included stove plates containing inscriptions in German (Figure 1).

Although Antietam Furnace was not owned by individuals of German descent, proprietors Daniel and Sam Hughes apparently knew their local customer base well – of the eight complete or virtually complete stove plates that were recovered from the site, all were molded with German and Pennsylvania Dutch-style motifs in the forms of tulips, hearts, birds of paradise and blessings in German (Figure 2).  From its earliest beginnings, Maryland has been home to a large population of German immigrants and the Hughes brothers were banking on these stoves finding ready customers among them. Continue reading

Maryland’s Shipbuilding Past – the Steward Shipyard Dogshore

The Stephen Steward Shipyard (18AN817), located on the West River in Anne Arundel County, is one of state’s best-documented and preserved eighteenth-century shipyards.  Steward’s thriving enterprise was both large and complex, including workshops and storage buildings, as well as housing for the free craftsmen and laborers, indentured servants and slaves employed there.  During the second half of the century, Steward and his workers constructed seagoing vessels ranging from 20 to 270 tons for both the transatlantic and Caribbean trades.

The MAC Lab’s Chief Conservator Nichole Doub takes measurements of the Steward Shipyard dogshore.

The MAC Lab’s Chief Conservator Nichole Doub takes measurements of the Steward Shipyard dogshore.

Archaeological excavations conducted at the site in the 1990s revealed this impressive artifact – a dog-shore.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines dog-shore as “each of two blocks of timber used to prevent a ship from starting off the slips while the keel-blocks are being removed in preparation for launching”.  This dog-shore, fashioned from a branching tree trunk, is an ideal object to represent the shipbuilding industry in our state.

Thomas Paine perhaps most clearly stated the importance of our nation’s shipbuilding industry in Common Sense (1776):  “Shipbuilding is America’s greatest pride and in which she will, in time, excel the whole world” (Paine 2008:53).  Because they benefited from the colony’s ability to produce seaworthy craft, shipbuilding was the one colonial industry that England did not attempt to regulate (O’Neill 2010).  Building and owning ships was also appealing to American colonists, not only for the economic benefits of the industry, but also because it provided American merchants with greater commercial independence from the British.  In the Chesapeake, ships were important for transporting the region’s primary crop—tobacco—to Europe. Continue reading