Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Traveling Tuesday: Baltimore During WWII

Traveling Tuesday: Baltimore During WWII

The history of Baltimore begins nearly three hundred years ago, its residents living through economic booms and busts, social and political upheaval, fire, and war, the last of which was a mixed blessing for the city.

A mere three decades prior to World War II Baltimore suffered a massive fire. At the corner of German (now Redwood) and Liberty Streets smoke rose from the basement of a dry goods store, then shortly before eleven o’clock in the morning, the building exploded. Burning debris landed on nearby structures, and the winds fanned the flames, pushing them even farther until the entire downtown area was ablaze. Thirty hours later, Baltimore firemen and those who had arrived from other cities along the East Coast put out the fire that had consumed 140 acres, destroyed 1,526 buildings, and burned out 2,500 companies. It would take the city ten years to fully rebuild.

World War I, also known as The Great War, brought economic and social changes. Manufacturing
plants sprang up or expanded creating jobs and supporting the war effort. Anti-German sentiment brought name changes to streets and businesses (German Street became Redwood Street, and German-American Bank became American Bank). Unfortunately, twelve years after the war ended, the Depression would nearly devastate the city. Baltimore Trust Company closed its thirty-two-story skyscraper, and by 1933, the governor closed all the banks to prevent mass withdrawals. By 1934, almost 30,000 residents were unemployed. Federal resources such as the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration helped, but it took the second world war to bring Baltimore back to its former glory.

Two of the largest government contractors were the Glenn L. Martin plant that produced military aircraft such as the B-26 Marauder and the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyard which built Liberty ships and had the honor of launching the first, the SS Patrick Henry. Camp Holabird is where the army tested the world-famous jeep and trained the soldiers who would keep those jeeps and other military vehicles operating. Coast Guard sailors trained at Fort McHenry and Curtis Bay. And thousands of men and women would go overseas to fight the enemy in every theatre of war.

Like everywhere else in the nation, residents planted victory gardens, but Baltimore went one step further when Henry P. Irr, president of Baltimore Federal Savings and Loan, sponsored a statewide competition and offered bonds as prizes. Constance Black, wife of Baltimore Sun executive Harry Black, tilled a section behind their mansion and put in boysenberries, currants, cabbage, chard, and fruit trees. Apparently, not to be outdone, her husband rode to work in a horse and carriage.

By all reports, Baltimore became a twenty-four-hour city. Manufacturers operated three shifts, and many support businesses extended their hours. Housing became a major issue as people flooded the city to work at the various plants. Many houses were cut up into small apartments, and some rowhouses were fitted with multiple beds, each bed shared among three men, one per eight-hour shift. Unfortunately, the city was not a welcoming place for people of color, and segregated housing was poor at best. According to one source, Baltimore refused federal money to build permanent public housing for African Americans, instead “opting for temporary trailers so they can be easily moved out after the war is over.”

Since the war, Baltimore has continued to experience the ebb and flow of success and failure, growth and stagnation, stability and unrest, but as shown in her history, the city and her people will prevail.


Estelle's Endeavor

Will a world at war destroy a second chance at love?

Estelle Johnson promised to wait for Aubry DeLuca, but then she receives word of his debilitating injuries. Does she have the strength to stand by him in his hour of need?

Aubry DeLuca storms the beaches at Normandy, then wakes up in the hospital, his eyes bandaged. Will he regain his sight? Will the only woman he’s ever loved welcome him home or is he destined to go through life blind and alone?

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