In the late 1970s, Mayor William Donald Schaefer proposed the creation of a museum to tell the story of Baltimore industry across two centuries of American history. Even before they found a building, Baltimore City officials organized an exhibit at the Baltimore Convention Center, and put up a display about the museum-to-be during the Baltimore City Fair. Roger B. White, a young city employee hired under the Comprehensive Employment Training Act, led the search to find an appropriate location, historical collections and private donors.
White found a Platt & Company oyster cannery building on the 1400 block of Key Highway and started the process of turning the old factory into a museum. Platt & Co. was once one of eighty canneries operating around Baltimore’s harbor. The building on Key Highway was the last cannery to remain. The museum developed exhibits on three major periods of Baltimore’s industrial growth: 1790-1830, 1870-1900, and 1920 up through the 1970s. White also acquired equipment from the American Brewery and furnishings from the local Read’s Drug Store chain. In November 1981, after years of preparation, the renovated oyster cannery finally opened its doors to the public as the Baltimore Museum of Industry. By December, Baltimore City had awarded the museum $25,000 to pay for the cost of school field trips and, in 1984, the city decided to purchase the site. Originally leased for around $25,000 annually, after the property sold to Baltimore City the rent climbed to $85,000. The museum organized a corporate membership drive in order to cover the increased rental payments.
At the same time, the museum sought to triple the amount of space in the facility. The expansion project also included a pier and waterfront development. In 1996, with only half of the renovation complete, Alonzo Decker Jr., former Black & Decker chief executive, donated $1 million to the fund. With the donation, the museum surpassed its $3.5 million goal and finished its renovation. For his gift, the Museum inscribed Decker’s name on the wall of the main gallery.
Today, the museum thrives as a “please touch” series of permanent and temporary exhibits that detail the industrial history of Baltimore. The exhibits include machinery from a cannery, garment loft, machine shop, pharmacy and print shop and the collections include around a million artifacts. With a pier and waterfront area, the museum often hosts weddings and corporate events as well.