Several weeks ago, while reading “Men of Mark” by Dr. William Simmons, the name J.D. Baltimore, of all the men mentioned, lingered for the longest. It loomed even larger as I planned a trip to that southern city. Jeremiah Daniel Baltimore was not from Baltimore, but it was not too far away from the nation’s capital where he was born on April 15, 1852. 

His parents Thomas and Hannah practiced different religions, his father a Catholic and his mother a Methodist. Jeremiah decided to become a Methodist and was baptized at the Wesley Zion Church in 1866. As a child he was fascinated by steam engines and often conducted all kinds of experiments. He told his mother he wanted to be an engineer. His mother explained the difficulty they would face trying to get him through school. None of this discouraged his experiments, even when the steam boiler he made was ultimately a flop. Nevertheless, his pastor placed it in an exhibition at the church and then in the United States Treasury Department where he received considerable attention and praise.

Their impressions fed his desire and provided him with the incentive he needed. One of the contraptions he created resulted from a combination of bricks, flower pots, and a kitchen stove to melt brass and other household utensils to make a steam engine with a tubular boiler. He took the engine to the patent office and the device was widely discussed, including mention in the Iron Age of London and, locally, in the Sunday Chronicle. Fueled by the publications, Baltimore took copies to the desk of President Ulysses S. Grant, who invited him to his office. At their meeting, Grant gave Baltimore a card to deliver to the Secretary of the Navy requesting that he be employed at the Navy Yard so he could learn and work on machinery. 

RELATED: Celebrating Black inventors

When he arrived at the Washington Navy Yard, Baltimore became an apprentice in the department of steam engineering. He spent several months facing racist derision from fellow workers, until he eventually brought his complaints to Professor John Mercer Langston, who then escalated them to the Secretary of the Navy. This allowed Baltimore to be transferred to the Philadelphia Navy Yard.  Once again, he was met with racism and discrimination, forcing him to study on his own away from the yard. That soon paid off and he became the second African American to be admitted to the Franklin Institute. By September 6, 1873, despite the relentless prejudice he encountered, he completed his apprenticeship and was assigned to the Philadelphia Naval Station on League Island to assist with monitor repairs.  

When working staff was reduced at the Yard, Baltimore found employment at a large mill, then at the Sellers & Brother manufacturing firm. When his health began to decline, he resigned and moved back to Washington, D.C. where he became an engineer of the United States Coast Survey and opened a general repair shop. In 1880, he was appointed chief engineer and mechanic at the Freedmen’s Hospital. He attended Howard University Medical College in 1880 and received a master’s degree from Livingstone College in 1883. A number of his inventions received patents, including the pyrometer. He was a member of several unions and played a key role in uniting Black and white workers in unions.

Baltimore’s extensive background in engineering made him a highly touted teacher of mechanics, which he did for several years in schools in Washington, D.C. from 1890 to 1922. Along with these teaching responsibilities he sat on the trial board of the naval battleship USS Texas in 1892. He was also one of the organizers and officers of the Potomac Hospital and Training School. In 1903, he was elected a member of the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia.   Twelve years later he was a member of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Art, Manufactures, and Commerce of London.

The list of his commitments to the city and the church is long, including a position as a trustee of the Metropolitan AME Zion Church. In 1872, he married Ella Waters and she died in 1889. In 1908, he married Jeanette Anderson, who was director of art in public schools. They had three children. J.D. died on July 29, 1929. At his death he was a member of the 19th Street Baptist Church where his funeral was held.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *