city (1990 pop. 736,014), N central Md., surrounded by but politically independent of Baltimore co., on the Patapsco River estuary, an arm of Chesapeake Bay; inc. 1745. The largest city in the state, it is a commercial and industrial center, a major railhead, and a seaport with extensive anchorages and dock and storage facilities. Coal, grain, and iron, steel, and copper products are exported. Among Baltimore's leading industries are shipbuilding, sugar and food processing, oil refining, biotechnology, and the manufacture of chemicals, steel, copper, clothing, and aerospace equipment.
A cultural and educational center, Baltimore is the seat of The Johns Hopkins Univ. with its famous medical center, the Univ. of Baltimore, Morgan State Univ., Loyola College in Maryland, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, Coppin State Univ., and the Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore, with schools of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, law, and social work. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has had its headquarters in the city since 1986. Also there are the Peabody Conservatory of Music, the Maryland Institute College of Art, the Maryland Academy of Sciences, the Walters Art Gallery, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. The Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra are well known. Since the 1970s filmmakers including John Waters and Barry Levinson have made Baltimore scenes widely familiar, as has novelist Anne Tyler.
The city's historical sites include Flag House; the first Roman Catholic cathedral in the United States (1806–21; designed by B. H. Latrobe); the Edgar Allan Poe House (c.1830); Westminster Churchyard, where Poe is buried; Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (see National Parks and Monuments, table); the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum; and numerous colonial homes. The U.S.S. Constellation, the first U.S. navy ship (1797) and a national historic shrine, as well as other historic ships, are docked at Baltimore's Harborplace.
Other landmarks are the historic square Mt. Vernon Place, which contains the Washington Monument (1815–42; designed by Robert Mills); Druid Hill Park, with a zoo and a natural history museum; and Pimlico Race Course, site of the Preakness, held annually since 1873. Many of the city's famous streets of redbrick row houses with scrubbed white steps still exist, although recent populaton loss has led to much demolition. H. L. Mencken, Babe Ruth, and Billie Holiday were born in Baltimore. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is nearby.
The site was settled in the early 17th cent. and Baltimore founded in 1729. The excellent harbor soon made it a center for the shipping of tobacco and grain. Shipbuilding, an early industry, flourished during the Revolution and the War of 1812 with the fitting out of many privateers, and in the early 1800s the famous Baltimore clippers were built. The nation's wars have played a large role in the city's history. When the British occupied (1777) Philadelphia, Baltimore became the meeting place of the Continental Congress. In the War of 1812 the gallant defense of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-spangled Banner.”
After the War of 1812, Baltimore experienced phenomenal growth, largely because of the National Road. When the Erie Canal (completed in 1825) endangered the city's hold on trans-Allegheny traffic, Baltimore businessmen chartered (1827) the Baltimore & Ohio RR to meet the competition of New York as the ocean outlet for the West. During the Civil War, Baltimore was strongly pro-Southern in sentiment; the 6th Massachusetts Regiment, passing through the city in Apr., 1861, was attacked by a mob. A disastrous fire in 1904 destroyed almost the entire downtown but enabled the emergence of a better planned city.
In World Wars I and II, Baltimore was an important shipbuilding and supply-shipping center. During the 1960s and 70s, however, Baltimore decayed rapidly, losing population and commerce, largely to neighboring suburbs. Urban redevelopment in the late 1970s and 1980s included the construction of Harborplace (shops and restaurants) in the Inner Harbor area, the National Aquarium, shopping pavilions, hotels, a convention center, the Maryland Science Center, and the American Visionary Art Museum. Waterside renewal continued through the 1990s, and old neighborhoods such as Fells Point became newly popular. In 1983 a rapid-transit line to the suburbs was opened. In 1992, Baltimore's professional baseball team, the Orioles, moved to the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards; the National Football League's Ravens began play nearby in 1998.