Across the bay from the Baltimore Inner Harbor and its traditional highlights sits a city gem: The Baltimore Museum of Industry.
Housed in an old oyster and tin can making warehouse, this fun and educational museum does a great job at bringing the city’s history to life. Among the exhibits you can see and experience an old pharmacy, a blacksmiths workshop, the tin can making plant, the Oyster cannery, the print shop, the tailor, the sewing factory, and even experience the automobile assembly line!
The museum website states: “Unlike many museums, the Baltimore Museum of Industry’s collections do not document the lifestyle of the elite. Instead, BMI depicts people who are often over-looked: the workers, small business owners, and others who built our history”. To this goal they have stayed true.
Guests are able to walk around the museum and its artifact filled exhibits by themselves or schedule a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable staff members. The stories are palpable as you engage and learn about the exhibits of life in Baltimore throughout its history, but this is one museum where the guided tour is an amazing bonus.
On the rainy Tuesday morning that we attended, the museum was abuzz with local school children on tour, families visiting on their own, and our own group of active worldschoolers. Three hours later, we emerged from the exhibits in awe of the city history and the fun facts we learned during our guided tour.
Our guide. I am not one to use a guided tour on most museum visits. I prefer to wander around at our own pace and indulge in the details that we choose- if possible with the self-paced audio guide. But, I can say without a doubt, that the guided tour is a gem in this museum. The amount of available information and history is enormous and our guide did an amazing job at sharing it all with the kids and adults in our group. Note that the History Alive Tour is offered for both children and adults.
The “shops”. The Baltimore Museum of Industry, once inside, feels a lot more like a turn of the century city than a museum. The credit to this immersion is undoubtedly due to the “shops” set up as the main exhibit space for the story of Baltimore. We walked through a belt-driven machine shop, the blacksmiths shop, an oyster cannery, the bakery, the ice cream parlor, the drug store, the garment factory, the tailor shop, the printing press, the assembly line and several other areas where we were surrounded by the artifacts of the related shop.
The activities. This would be an additional fee and needs to be scheduled ahead of time, but the activities available for hands-on learning are great. There are almost a dozen activities that can be scheduled and I will suggest the automobile assembly line. We began ours with a lesson on the history of the automobile, followed by an introduction to the idea of an assembly line, work, and then a short video that does a good job at bringing all the learning together. The “work” portion of the activity brings attendees together to assemble cars. The products and pieces are given to each individual workers as the foreman (guide) watches over the workers to make sure they understand their place in the process. It was really fun to work and equally as interesting to observe the kids realize how their small task added up to a big win or a big fail for the company. Turns out attention to detail is key in the assembly line- a good lesson for anyone.
Fun Facts We Learned (Don’t worry, I won’t spoil them all!)
Did you know that you can only harvest Oysters that are at least 3 years old? How about that you could only harvest them in months that have the letter “r” in them? The reason for that last piece of information is because hot summer months are a bad time to harvest something that requires ice to stay fresh (a hard condition to fulfil at turn-of-the-century Baltimore).
Tin cans produced in Baltimore were originally made by the 10-17 year old children of the cannery employees.
Production plants in Baltimore got electricity in 1883.
Baltimore was the first place to have commercial ice cream
More than 1,500 homes and businesses burned to the ground in Baltimore. This tragic event lead to the discovery of one interesting fact: each city in the U.S.A. has its own size of firehose! What this means is that a fire truck in Washington, D.C. can not use its firehoses in Baltimore, MD. In order to prevent another tragedy, adaptors were made for the fire trucks to carry and, even today, this is still the case!
Baltimore is known for its harbor and shipyards. But, did you know that during World War II the city made more clothes than ships? The garment industry in Baltimore spent many decades as the top producer in the country!
Ever wonder why we call our letters Upper case and Lower case? Check out the box in the picture bellow. The upper case cabinets hold the Upper Case letters and the lower case cabinets hold the lower case letters! All printers used this filing and sorting system for their letters- hence Upper and lower case letters!
The first cars were custom built and cost an average of $5,000 dollars- the equivalent of two homes in Baltimore (at the time)! Thanks to the assembly line, the lower prices it enabled, and the specifics of the Ford Model T, that price went considerably down to approximately $300 dollars. A great way to travel those 143 miles of paved roads in the whole of the United States back in those days!
After visiting the Baltimore Museum of Industry, with kids of various ages, I can say without a doubt that a scavenger hunt would be an amazing addition to this already amazing learning experience. While the guided tour does a great job at engaging everyone, I would have loved to be able to walk around the museum finding interesting artifacts, pieces of information, or details throughout the exhibit space.
There is so much to learn and see and do that a scavenger hunt would be a great wrap-up of everything one learns in this space. Whether it is self-made or something the museum could add to their website/ programming, it is something I will add the next time we visit the museum.
Our Family Review
Mackenzie and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Baltimore Museum of Industry. While everyone knows about the National Aquarium and the Maryland Science Center, this gem is not on everyone’s radar- and that’s a big shame because it should be. A short walk from the Maryland Science Center or a water taxi ride across the Aquarium, the Baltimore Museum of Industry is a true learning center of Baltimore’s rich history. The next time you are in the Inner Harbor area, take a stroll and enjoy this piece of Baltimore’s story.
The Baltimore Museum of Industry is truly a child friendly and family friendly museum. With wide areas, artifact filled spaces, and engaging exhibits, this is one museum where you don’t have to worry about the kids. For $12 per adult and $7 per child (6 and under enter for free), you can enjoy an afternoon of engaged learning, history, and Baltimore fun facts with the whole family. As worldschoolers, we actively seek to learn about the history and life of every city we visit. The family friendly Baltimore Museum of Industry is a great introduction and overview of Baltimore’s rich history and traditions.
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