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[photo, World Trade Center (a pentagonal building), 401 East Pratt St., Baltimore, Maryland] Baltimore is one of only two Eastern U.S. ports where the main shipping channel reaches a depth of 50 feet (15.2 meters). Five public and twelve private terminals handle the Port's traffic. Closer to the Midwest than any other East Coast port, the Port in Baltimore City is within an overnight drive of one-third of the nation's population.

The center of international commerce for the region is the World Trade Center Baltimore. It houses the Maryland Port Administration and U.S. headquarters for major shipping lines.

World Trade Center (a pentagonal building), 401 East Pratt St., Baltimore, Maryland, February 2008. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

[photo, Tugboat, Baltimore Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland] The Port of Baltimore plays a vital role in Maryland's economy, generating $3.2 billion in annual revenue and local purchases, as well as supporting 50,700 jobs. It serves over 50 ocean carriers making nearly 1,800 annual visits. Opened in 1990, the Seagirt Marine Terminal provides a 275-acre center for automated cargo-handling.

1906 Steam Tugboat BALTIMORE, moored in Baltimore Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland, September 2001. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

[photo, Tugboats, Fell's Point, Baltimore, Maryland] Among all U.S. ports, Baltimore is first in handling autos, light trucks, farm and construction machinery; and imported iron ore, gypsum, forest products, and sugar. The Port is second in coal exports and imported aluminum and salt. On the East Coast, it is one of only two ports ready to receive some of the world's largest container vessels. With redredging of the Panama Canal to be completed in 2014, Atlantic coastal ports will be able to receive the larger cargo-carriers that previously were limited to the Pacific Coast.

Tugboats, Fell's Point, Baltimore, Maryland, January 2000. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

Total cargo moving through the Port fell by 3% in 2012, amounting to 36.7 million tons, down from 37.7 million tons in 2011. However, the value of cargo traveling through the Port in 2012 grew by 5%, increasing to $53.9 billion, up from $51.3 billion in 2011.

In July 2012, Baltimore's public terminals handled nearly 854 thousand tons of cargo, breaking the Port's record for most tonnage in a single month. The year 2012 also set the record for most tonnage handled by public terminals in a single year, with 9.59 million tons, breaking the earlier record of 8.96 million tons set in 2008.

Automobile cargo, in 2012, increased by 17%, and bulk cargo increased by 11%. Both broke the records set in 2011.

From 2002 to 2011, the Port of Baltimore saw a dramatic increase of 417.7% in exported cargo, growing from 5.7 million tons to 23.9 million tons.

Chief Exports: coal, corn, soybeans, lignite, coal coke, petroleum, and fuel oils.

Chief Imports: automobiles and small trucks, farm and construction machinery, iron ore, petroleum products, gypsum, sugar, cement, bauxite, salt, crude mineral substances, fertilizer and fertilizer materials, and ferroalloys. Baltimore also continues to grow as a major distributor of imported wood pulp and paper.

In the 17th century, the Port of Baltimore started as an access point for Marylandís tobacco trade with England, but soon other commodities shipped through its natural harbor. By the end of the 18th century, the Port began trade with China, and supported by development of the railroad in the 19th century, the Port later transformed as a site for trade with Europe and South America.

The Port first drew attention for its ships in 1670 and was designated a port of entry by the General Assembly in 1706. Fells Point, the deepest part of the harbor, was home to numerous shipbuilders, and later would gain renown for its Baltimore clippers, as well as the Continental Navy. Its natural depth made Fells Point a center for trade and shipping, and, in 1773, it was incorporated into Baltimore City.

As Baltimore grew into a city during the Revolutionary War, the Port of Baltimore became a center for the trade with the West Indies that supported the war effort. Marylanders recognized the need to protect the Port. An earthwork fort, known as Fort Whetstone, was erected in 1776 on Whetstone Point, the narrow peninsula between branches of the Patapsco River. Wardens of the Port were authorized in 1783 to oversee construction of wharves, clear waterways, and collect duties from vessels entering and clearing the Port (Chapter 24, Acts of 1783).

Trade with China commenced in 1785 as John O'Donnell brought in goods to that part of the City called Canton, just east of Fells Point, and, during the nineteenth century, Baltimore clipper ships sped around the world and developed a particularly lucrative trade with South America.

To protect the Port, Fort McHenry replaced the Whetstone earthworks in 1794. Near the old fort, masonry stood in place of earthen walls, and more cannons were added, creating an upper and lower battery. The need for this more defensive structure was proven at the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812.

Although Baltimore was a port long before it was a city, the State delayed its role in port development until 1827. Then, the Governor began annually to appoint State wharfingers who took charge of State-owned or leased docks, particularly those adjacent to the State Tobacco Warehouse.

With the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad connecting to Port warehouses at Locust Point in 1845, Baltimore became the commercial gateway to an expanding nation. As supply and demand grew for imported goods to Baltimore, ship production and design increased.

Over time, the Port changed dramatically, most noticeably in its depth and width. In 1830 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveyed Baltimore Harbor, establishing the central lane depth at 17 feet. Though dredging had been conducted earlier, the River and Harbor Act of 1852 first authorized dredging to obtain specific dimensions. The Act created a channel, some 22 feet deep and 150 feet wide, from Fort McHenry to Swan Point. To decrease sediment accumulations and reduce the need for dredging, in 1869 Brewerton Channel was created. Also 22 feet in depth, this new channel was 200 feet in width. Over the years, new channels have been added, deepened, and widened. Today, the main channel reaches 50 feet down and 800 feet across. Brewerton Channel was widened further in 2001. Currently, it is 35 feet deep and 600 feet wide. In 2012, the Seagirt Terminal berth also was deepened to 50 feet.

Though constantly growing since its inception, considerable time elapsed before the Port had a State agency to oversee operations. The Maryland Port Authority assumed that role in 1956 (Chapter 2, Acts of Special Session of 1956). The Authority's prime concern was to keep the Port competitive by improving and modernizing its facilities and by promoting it worldwide. In 1971, the Authority was replaced by the Maryland Port Administration.

The Port of Baltimore continues to improve today. It adds jobs and revenue to Maryland's economic base, and has even begun ecological duties. In recent years, the Maryland Port Administration added a number of green projects to its workload, dredging and cleaning over 22 acres surrounding the Port, creating an environmental education center, and taking part in ecological programs, such as the Green Schools Program, and the Masonville Restoration Project.

In conjunction with the 300th anniversary of the Port's creation, the Governor named the State's public marine terminals the "Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore" on June 1, 2006.

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 Maryland Manual On-Line, 2013

August 8, 2013

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