The Baltimore Museum of Industry (BMI) today announced a call for the public’s help in the final step of transforming the original 100-foot-tall shipyard crane that overlooks the museum’s waterfront campus entrance. The museum is asking neighbors, residents and patrons of the museum to vote for the new color of the crane: orange, green, blue or red?
Votes can be cast online at www.thebmi.org or by texting the color of choice—’red’, ‘orange’, ‘green’ or ‘blue’—to 484848. Voting closes August 31. The winning color will be announced on September 6.
In 2016, the museum launched the Save the Crane campaign with an online, crowd-sourced fund drive to fully restore the historic 1942 crane. The first phase of restoration—cleaning and sealing the crane’s cab, which included removing more than 350 lbs. of pigeon guano—was completed in the spring of 2016. Now in its final phases of the renovation, the museum invites the public to help with the final step: painting the crane.
“We are so thankful for the many individuals, corporations, foundations, and public funders who have helped to make the crane’s ongoing transformation possible,” said Anita Kassof, executive director of the BMI. “Having the community be a part of this final phase is very important to us and we look forward to the fully-restored and freshly painted whirley crane becoming a celebrated and cherished icon in Baltimore for decades to come.”
History of the Crane
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, the crane 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. Following the closing, the BMI, eager to help Baltimore hold onto its incredible shipbuilding heritage, pursued the crane 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 at the BMI today.