[photo, A view of Baltimore, Maryland, from the water]
  • Cargo
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  • History
  • Terminals
  • The Port of Baltimore offers the deepest harbor in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. Closer to the Midwest than any other East Coast port, the Port in Baltimore City also is within an overnight drive of one-third of the nation's population.

    A view of Baltimore, Maryland, from the water, November 2009. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    [photo, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland] With the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016 to allow deeper and wider lanes for larger ships to pass through, Baltimore and other Atlantic coastal ports now can receive the larger cargo-carriers, often from the Far East, that previously were limited to the Pacific Coast. Indeed, Baltimore's 50-foot (15.2 meters) shipping channel and two 50-foot container berths allow it to accomodate two of the largest container ships in the world at the same time. On July 19, 2016, the Ever Lambent, a cargo-carrier from Taiwan, was the first supersized container ship to reach Baltimore through the Panama Canal.

    Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland, October 2008. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    [photo, World Trade Center (a pentagonal building), 401 East Pratt St., Baltimore, Maryland] The center of international commerce for the region is the World Trade Center Baltimore. It houses the Maryland Port Administration and U.S. headquarters for major shipping lines. In recognition of its success in increasing exports out of the Port of Baltimore in recent years, the Maryland Port Administration received the President’s “E Star” Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2014.

    World Trade Center (a pentagonal building), 401 East Pratt St., Baltimore, Maryland, February 2008. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    [photo, Tugboat, Baltimore Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland] In Maryland's economy, the Port of Baltimore generates nearly $3.3 billion in total personal income and supports 15,330 direct jobs and 139,180 jobs connected to Port work. The Port also generates more than $395 million in taxes and $2.6 billion in business income. It serves over 50 ocean carriers making nearly 1,800 annual visits.

    1906 Steam Tugboat Baltimore, Inner Harbor, Baltimore, Maryland, September 2001. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    At approximately 1:30 a.m. on March 26, 2024, the container ship Dali, sailing from the Port of Baltimore, struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing it to collapse into the Patapsco River, killing six construction workers and blocking the Port's water access. On June 10, 2024, the Fort McHenry Federal Channel, the Port's main channel, reopened to ship traffic, allowing the Port to become fully operational once again.

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to reopen the Fort McHenry Channel, allowing full marine access to the Port of Baltimore, by late May 2024.

    [photo, Seven post-Panamax and four super-post-Panamax cranes, Seagirt Marine Terminal, Port of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland] Terminals. Handling Port traffic are five public and twelve private terminals. Public terminals include Dundalk, Fairfield, North Locust Point, Seagirt, and South Locust Point. Opened in 1990, the Seagirt Marine Terminal provides a 275-acre center for automated cargo-handling, as well as two 50-foot container berths to handle two supersized container ships at the same time. Four post-Panamax cranes, four super-post-Panamax cranes, and four Neo-Panamax cranes unload the container ships. Three post-Panamax cranes were removed in March 2023 and sent to Tampa in order for the Port of Baltimore to upgrade its infrastructure and to improve its efficiency. Additional cranes are scheduled to be added later.

    Seven post-Panamax & four super-post-Panamax cranes, Seagirt Marine Terminal, Port of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, May 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.

    [photo, Hoegh Autoliners, Patapsco River, Baltimore, Maryland] In 2023, the public terminals received a top security rating by the U.S. Coast Guard for the 15th straight year.

    The Port's private and public terminals handled 847,158 autos and light trucks in 2023, the most of any U.S. port for the thirteenth straight year.

    Höegh Autoliners, Patapsco River, Baltimore, Maryland, October 2019. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    [photo, Tugboats, Fell's Point, Baltimore, Maryland] In 2023, the Port ranked first in the nation in handling automobiles, light trucks, farm and construction machinery, as well as imported sugar and gypsum. The Port ranked second in the country for exporting coal. In 2022, the Port ranked sixth for importing coffee, 119,000 tons worth $609 million.

    The top export commodities by weight in 2022 were coal, liquefied natural gas (LNG), wastepaper, ferrous scrap, and automobiles/light trucks. The top imports were automobiles/light trucks, salt, paper/paperboard, gypsum, and plywood/veneer/particle board.

    Tugboats, Fell's Point, Baltimore, Maryland, January 2000. Photo by Diane F. Evartt.

    [photo, Salt pile, Rukert Terminals, 2021 South Clinton St., Baltimore, Maryland] Cargo. In Fiscal Year 2023, some 11.7 million tons of general cargo were handled by the Port's public terminals, a new record from the 11.3 million tons set in 2022.

    Moreover, in 2023, the Port of Baltimore handled a record 52.3 million tons of international cargo, valued at $80.8 billion. Nationally, Baltimore ranks 9th for both total dollar value and tonnage of international cargo.

    Salt pile, Rukert Terminals, 2021 South Clinton St., Baltimore, Maryland, August 2016. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.

    Also in 2023, the Port of Baltimore handled a record 1.3 million tons of imported roll-on/roll-off cargo (ro/ro), high and heavy farm and construction equipment. The Port is the top U.S. port for roll-on/roll-off cargo.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Port handled nearly 100 "ad hoc" ships, vessels that were not scheduled to stop in Baltimore, but were diverted there.

    In the first quarter of 2019, the Port of Baltimore's public terminals handled 335,638 tons of roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) cargo, a 32.5% increase from the same period in 2018. In the second quarter, the Port set a new record for moving 2,873,392 tons.

    In July 2019, the Port handled a record 98,529 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) containers. In March 2019, the Port set multiple records for handling the most cargo in a month, including 1,018,274 general cargo tons; 96,535 tons of roll-on/roll-off cargo tons, the most since June 2012; and 59,052 vehicles, the best March for autos and light trucks.

    In 2018, a record-setting year, the Port's terminals had the best first six months by moving 5,562,954 tons of cargo. Coal, the Port's top export commodity (based on tonnage), surpassed 21.5 million tons. Throughout 2018, the Port also handled a record 442,838 imported autos and, setting a new monthly record, the Port handled 65,281 autos in August alone.

    In January 2017, the Port's public terminals handled a record-setting 923,030 tons of cargo, a 14% increase from January 2016. This included 712,386 container tons, which was a new month record and an increase of 20% from January 2016.

    [photo, Shipping containers, Port of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland] Containers. In August 2023, the Evergreen Ever Max, a container ship which can handle 15,432 TEU containers and weighing 165,350 tons, became the largest vessel to ever arrive at the Port.

    In June 2023, the Port of Baltimore managed 6,383 container moves for the Maersk Eindhorn, the most moves for a ship in the history of the Port.

    In 2022, the Port of Baltimore was added to an international container service with the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). This around-the-world service includes the Asia-Panama Canal route and the U.S.-Suez Canal route.

    Shipping containers, Port of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, July 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.

    In 2023, the Port handled a record-setting 1.1 million TEU containers.

    In 2022, the Port exported 1,000 tons of aircraft and parts, with a value of $890 million. Also in 2022, the Port imported a record 793,695 tons of paper and handled over 41,000 tons of books with a value of 124.5 million. That same year, the Port handled 24,900 tons of chocolate worth over $114 million, as well as $59.4 million worth of ice cream.

    In the last seven months of 2019, six vessels with 14,000-TEU carrying capacity came to the Port.

    In January 2017, the Port of Baltimore handled a record-setting 37,694 loaded containers.

    In 2015, the Journal of Commerce ranked the Port of Baltimore as number one in the nation for container berth productivity, with the Port averaging 71 container movements each hour per berth. Three of the world's largest container shipping companies - Evergreen, Maersk, and MSC - now operate at the Port.

    [photo, Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship, Cruise Maryland Termninal, Baltimore, Maryland, from the water]
    Cruise Lines. Along with cargo terminals, Baltimore also has a passenger cruise terminal, which offers year-round trips on several lines, including Royal Caribbean's Vision of the Seas, Carnival's Legend, and, as of September 2023, Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sky and Norwegian Sun. American Cruise Lines makes trips around the Chesapeake Bay region and along the East Coast. German-based Phoenix Reisen makes Baltimore a port of call during its trips.

    Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship, Cruise Maryland Terminal, Baltimore, Maryland, May 2015. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.

    [photo, Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship, heading to sea, Patapsco River, Baltimore, Maryland] In 2023, cruises carrying more than 444,000 passengers departed from the Port of Baltimore's cruise terminal. The Port of Baltimore's cruise industry supports over 400 jobs and brings in over $63 million to Maryland's economy.

    Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship, heading to sea, Patapsco River, Baltimore, Maryland, October 2017. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.

    History. In the 17th century, the Port of Baltimore started as an access point for Maryland’s tobacco trade with England. Soon other commodities also shipped through its natural harbor. By the end of the 18th century, the Port began trade with China. Supported by development of the railroad, the Port later transformed as a site for trade with Europe and South America in the 19th century.

    The Port first drew attention for its ships in 1670 and was designated a port of entry by the General Assembly in 1706. Fells Point, the deepest part of the harbor, was home to numerous shipbuilders, and later would gain renown for its Baltimore clippers, as well as the Continental Navy. Its natural depth made Fells Point a center for trade and shipping, and, in 1773, it was incorporated into Baltimore City.

    As Baltimore grew into a city during the Revolutionary War, the Port of Baltimore became a center for the trade with the West Indies that supported the war effort. To protect the Port, an earthwork fort, known as Fort Whetstone, was erected in 1776 on Whetstone Point, the narrow peninsula between branches of the Patapsco River. Wardens of the Port were authorized in 1783 to oversee construction of wharves, clear waterways, and collect duties from vessels entering and clearing the Port (Chapter 24, Acts of 1783).

    Trade with China commenced in 1785 as John O'Donnell brought in goods to that part of the City called Canton, just east of Fells Point.

    In 1793, as England warred with France, Maryland relinquished control of Fort Whetstone to the federal government. To protect coastal shipping and cities, the federal government began construction in 1794 of a series of Atlantic forts, among them Fort McHenry. To protect Baltimore's Port, Fort McHenry was constructed on the site of the Whetstone earthworks in 1794. Near the old fort, masonry stood in place of earthen walls, and more cannons were added, creating an upper and lower battery. The need for this more defensive structure was proven at the Battle of North Point during the War of 1812.

    During the 19th century, Baltimore clipper ships sped from the Port around the world and developed a particularly lucrative trade with South America.

    Although Baltimore was a port long before it was a city, the State delayed its role in port development until 1827. Then, the Governor began annually to appoint State wharfingers who took charge of State-owned or leased docks, particularly those adjacent to the State Tobacco Warehouse.

    With the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad connecting to Port warehouses at Locust Point in 1845, Baltimore became the commercial gateway to an expanding nation. As supply and demand grew for imported goods to Baltimore, ship production and design increased.

    Over time, the Port changed dramatically, most noticeably in its depth and width. In 1830 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers surveyed Baltimore Harbor, establishing the central lane depth at 17 feet. Though dredging had been conducted earlier, the federal River and Harbor Act of 1852 first authorized dredging to obtain specific dimensions. The Act authorized a channel, some 22 feet deep and 150 feet wide, from Fort McHenry to Swan Point. To decrease sediment accumulations and reduce the need for dredging, in 1869 Brewerton Channel was created. Also 22 feet in depth, this new channel was 200 feet in width. Over the years, new channels have been added, deepened, and widened. A 50-foot turning basin was dredged in the Fort McHenry Channel in 1999. Today, the main channel reaches 51 feet down and 700 feet across. Brewerton Channel was widened further to 50 feet deep and 700 feet wide in 2001. In 2012, the Seagirt Marine Terminal berth also was deepened to 50 feet. By mid-2015, the access channel to the Seagirt Terminal was widened to accomodate the world's largest container ships.

    The Port of Baltimore continues to improve its operations today. A second 50-foot container berth to accomodate two supersized container ships in the Port at the same time was finished in April 2021. In November 2021, the Howard Street Tunnel began to be reconstructed in order to move double-stack train cars. Four Neo-Panamax cranes began operating at the Port's terminals in May 2022 with plans for additional cranes to be added later. Ongoing berth reconstructions are planned to increase capacity for larger and heavier roll on/roll off cargo, such as combines and harvesters.

    Though constantly growing since its inception, considerable time elapsed before the Port had a State agency to oversee operations. The Maryland Port Authority assumed that role in 1956 (Chapter 2, Acts of Special Session of 1956). The Authority's prime concern was to keep the Port competitive by improving and modernizing its facilities and by promoting it worldwide. In 1971, the Authority was replaced by the Maryland Port Administration under the Department of Transportation.

    In recent years, the Maryland Port Administration has been recognized in its efforts to clean up the environment in its public marine terminals, as well as in the surrounding area. The Port Administration has received certification in international standards for environmental management, known as ISO 14001 for Environmental Management System, by NSF International in 2014, 2017, and 2020. The Port Administration's environmental initiatives include the installation of stormwater management systems at both the Fairfield and Dundalk Marine Terminals and addition of a number of green projects to its workload, including taking part in ecological programs, such as the Green Schools Program. In the Masonville Restoration Project, the Port Administration restored an industry-polluted shoreline and, in 2009, opened the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center among 70 acres of water and 54 acres of restored wetlands and nature trails. In 2013, these actions resulted in the Port being named the first Urban Wildlife Refuge Partner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2015, the Port began installing new LED light fixtures throughout its terminals, starting with the bridge connecting the Dundalk and Seagirt Marine Terminals, in order to reduce energy consumption and energy and maintenance costs, as well as to increase safety. In 2019, the Port partnered with the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore to restore a stream and create a biorention area for water. Also in 2019, the Port Administration provided funding to the Department of Natural Resources to aid in oyster restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay. Dredging and clean-up efforts have improved over 22 acres surrounding the Port. Sediment dredged from the Port's shipping channels have been used to restore wetlands and rebuild eroding islands, including Poplar and Hart-Miller Islands, making the Port Administration the largest creator of wetlands in the State. Poplar Island is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife and is an important nesting ground for terrapins. Hart-Miller Island is a habitat for migratory birds, as well as a popular spot for recreational boaters. In February 2022, the Port received a $1.8 Million Diesel Emission Reduction Act grant from the Environmental Protection Agency's Diesel Equipment Upgrade Program to replace older diesel-powered equipment in order to reduce emissions. In 2023, the Mid-Chesapeake Bay Island Ecosystem Restoration project began, which includes the restoration of 2,072 acres of James Island and 72 acres on Barren Island, as well as the protection of Dorchester County's shoreline.

    [photo, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), North Locust Point, Port of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland] In conjunction with the 300th anniversary of the Port's creation, the Governor named the State's public marine terminals the "Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore" on June 1, 2006.

    On October 15, 2016, the Port of Baltimore was the location of the commissioning ceremony for the USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), a guided missile destroyer in the U.S. Navy. The ceremony took place during Maryland's inaugural Fleet Week celebrations.

    USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), North Locust Point, Port of Baltimore, Baltimore, Maryland, October 2016. Photo by Sarah A. Hanks.

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