Pardon my dust!
It’s official! Restoration of the Baltimore Museum of Industry’s 1942 shipyard crane started on April 3, as heavy equipment arrived on the BMI campus. The crane’s 80-foot long boom was removed, and placed on the ground to be painted and repaired. The crane tower will be encased in plastic to protect passers-by before removing the old paint, and when the plastic comes off and the boom is replaced six weeks from now–voila! A gleaming green crane.
During restoration, you’ll see a small staging area in our parking lot–but the museum will be open to visitors!
Our whirley crane–so called because its cab could rotate a full 360 degrees–built WWII Liberty and Victory ships at the Bethlehem Steel Fairfield Shipyard. Later, it was moved to the Key Highway shipyard, where it remained until 1982, when the yard closed. Shortly afterwards, it was donated to the BMI and has resided on our museum campus ever since. We are so grateful to the many community members whose generosity enabled us to reach our $700,000 Phase I campaign goal.
But we’re not quite done yet. Phase II will add an energy-efficient LED lighting system to complete the crane’s transformation. With just the click of a button, we can change the color: think orange for the O’s; purple for the Ravens; red, white, and blue for July 4th. We have just $75,000 left to reach our Phase II campaign goal. For more details on the restoration plans and how you can help out, click here.
History of the Crane
To the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the 104-foot-tall crane that graces our entrance is a historically rich beacon of progress. Yet to many who pass by, it has been a large, weathered structure without a story. That’s why we launched the “Save the Crane” campaign. With your help, this storied crane will live up to its legacy as a proud shining symbol of Baltimore, a warm welcome to the Inner Harbor, and an awe-inspiring gateway to the BMI experience. To learn more about the crane please watch the incredible video below, created by Elevated Element.
Built in 1942 and dubbed a “whirley crane” for its ability to turn 360 degrees, this Bethlehem Steel Clyde Model 17 DE 90 crane was instrumental in Bethlehem Steel’s prolific World War II shipbuilding effort.
The crane’s unique full rotation feature allowed it to help the Bethlehem Steel Fairfield shipyard hit record-breaking production numbers of Liberty and Victory ships during the war. With more than 44,000 workers and dozens of whirley cranes, the yard was building one vessel per month by mid-1943, and launching an average of one ship every thirty-five hours.
Unlike many of its counterparts, this particular crane’s service continued long after peace was restored. Following World War II, it was transferred to Bethlehem Steel’s Key Highway shipyard. In an unprecedented experimental project in 1951, the crane helped “jumboize” a former Victory war ship for commercial use. This process involved adding a large midsection to the ship, and its historic success paved the way for many similar projects.
The crane remained in active service until 1982, when the yard closed. That’s when the Baltimore Museum of Industry, eager to help Baltimore hold onto its incredible shipbuilding heritage, sought it out as a donation. The shipyard’s new owners obliged, and the property’s last standing crane was disassembled, sent down the Inner Harbor on barges, painted, and reassembled where it still stands today.
Unfortunately, after decades of weather exposure, the crane’s appearance and structural integrity were in serious jeopardy.
As the largest and most visible artifact in our collection, the whirley crane is poised to be a celebrated and cherished icon for decades to come, and was selected as part of Preservation Maryland’s Six-to-Fix program to protect the best of our state history.
Upon restoration, the crane will serve as a glowing source of community pride and a landmark on par with the Bromo Seltzer Tower, the World Trade Center, and the Washington Monument.
Our whirley crane has carried so much on its epic journey. Now it needs us to help with the lifting.
Please explore these recognition opportunities and decide how you’d like to help reconnect Baltimore to this industrial icon.
Many thanks to all the Crane Campaign Contributors.
Learn more about the campaign to transform the historic crane into a Baltimore city landmark here via the Baltimore Sun.