Glenn L. Martin Company and the Middle River Community
Glenn L. Martin came to Middle River, Maryland in 1927 and 1928 quietly looking for real estate for his plan to build an aviation factory. He publicly announced his purchase of about 1260 acres in March of 1929 and officially opened the initial production complex on October 7, 1929, three weeks before the start of the depression on October 29th.
The initial "A" building plant and art deco administration building began with biplanes and went on to design and produce a remarkable series of Middle River aircraft and eventually rockets, missiles, spacecraft, and even ship components. Production was strong enough to survive the depression, partly supported by international sales to Russia, China, Siam, Argentina, Turkey, Great Britain, and the Netherlands. At one point during WWII, the facility became the largest and most advanced aircraft manufacturing complex in the world and was central in the development of Maryland's aircraft industry.
What followed Martin's arrival in 1929 was an impressive string of advanced aircraft and ultimately missiles. The outstanding B-10 all metal streamlined bomber, initially produced in 1933, was innovative and exceptionally fast, outrunning fighter aircraft of the day. The design won Martin the Collier trophy in 1933, aviation's most prestigious achievement award. Soon after, in 1935 the Martin M-130 China Clippers, produced and launched from the Dark Head Cove seaplane ramp, were the first trans-Pacific airliners, enabling Pan American Airways to pioneer air service throughout the Pacific.
In 1937, Martin foresaw the need for larger aircraft, including seaplanes, and hired Albert Kahn, known as America's most prominent industrial architect, to design B building, considered one of Kahn's finest structures. This unit enclosed the world's largest unobstructed aircraft assembly floor, with flat span trusses of 300 feet, lengths previously seen only on bridges.
The U.S. preparation and entry into WWII created an enormous demand for airplanes. Wartime pressures drove the addition of the C, D, and Plant 2 buildings, making the facility the largest in the world. The 440,000 square foot C building was built in only 77 days under wartime priorities. To handle the workload, employees arrived from all over the country for the opportunity to work at the Martin Company and production work proceeded in 3 shifts, 24 hours per day. The employee population expanded, growing from a 1929 initial skeleton crew to 3,600 ten years later, and on to the wartime peak of almost 53,000 in 1942. By 1944, women constituted 35% of the workforce and African Americans were 5% of the employees, an over representation of the regional population at the time.
At the wartime peak at the end of 1942, Glenn L. Martin employed 52,474 workers in the Baltimore area, mostly in Middle River. This mass migration had a number of effects on the community. A December 1941 issue of LIFE magazine featured a story on traffic jams that besieged the Middle River plant and extended the 10 miles all the way back to Baltimore. Prodded by the federal government anxious to have the new planes, the State of Maryland extended new water and sewer lines to Middle River, along with two new high-speed “divided highways,” Eastern and Martin Boulevards. They crossed in front of the Martin plant in what is probably Maryland’s first cloverleaf interchange. The Martin Plants in Middle River eventually had 42 acres of car parking.
Even more efficient was reducing car travel by building housing for workers close by the plant. Glenn Martin had foreseen this solution as early as 1940, when he commissioned a leafy “garden city” development on Wilson Point. This was “Stansbury Manor,” consisting of two-story brick and stone “garden apartments” facing green lawns and curving paths – resembling Baltimore’s most fashionable suburbs, Homeland and Guilford (where Martin himself lived). Cars were housed separately in “garage courts” on the periphery of the complex. Martin also addressed personal time, with community centers, sports facilities, and team sponserships.
Despite Martin’s good intentions, apartments in Stansbury Manor could not solve the housing problems for ordinary workers. At $65 a month, they cost too much. Martin, who took a personal interest in worker housing, hired Jan Porel as the company architect and engaged the services of the pioneer modern architecture firm in New York, Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. SOM, as they were known, came up with a house design that could be built quickly and cheaply from prefabricated materials. With the Martin company’s support, SOM designed and built 600 prefabs, half adjoining Stansbury Manor, the other half in a different layout, “Aero Acres,” along the new Martin Boulevard. Aero Acres had the same winding streets as Stansbury Manor, but the small houses (24 by 28 feet) were cheaper, only $30-35 a month. In line with its name, Aero Acres’ streets were named after parts of airplanes, with the main street named “Fuselage Avenue.” Nearby were “Right Wing Drive,” “Left Wing Drive,” “Right Aileron Court,” “Left Aileron Court,” and so on.
The federal government eventually came through with more than a thousand wood-panel prefabs in a more traditional design, “Victory Villa.” The aeronautical street naming continued in Middle River, with names like “Compression,” “Helicopter,” “Strut,” and “Rudder.”
With government encouragement, the real estate industry took up worker housing in 1943, building mostly brick garden apartments cheap enough to compete with the prefabs. One of the largest of these was named after the Martin Mars aircraft. “Mars Estates” consisted of 840 one-bedroom apartments in 105 colonial-revival buildings. Besides Mars Street, its roads were named after famous aviators: Rickenbacker, Doolittle, and Seversky. Later owners rechristened the complex as the “Village of Tall Trees.” Although it was torn down in 2000, Mars Estates Elementary School retains the area’s connection to the giant flying boat. Also impressed was Angelo d’Anna, a local grocer, who replaced his small corner store with a chain of modern supermarkets. Again, their large size suggested the Mars, and the plane was commemorated in the Mars Supermarkets which have since closed..
Following the war, the company began manufacturing airliners, and by the end of the decade was producing guided missiles and rockets. Martin retired from the company in 1952, following financial troubles and a buyout. His 40 years at the helm of his own company remains a record in the aerospace industry. Throughout the 50's, the company continued to produce military seaplanes, including its last seaplane design, the sophisticated P6M Seamaster jet. New aircraft production continued and ended with the B-57 Canberra jets for the US Air Force. The company did continue aircraft work with modifications and upgrades of many aircraft types. At the end of the 50's, the company made the transition into the space age, producing a variety of missiles and launch vehicles, including the Vanguard multi stage rockets, and the Mace. It also produced the last seaplane decommissioned by the US Navy, a P5M Marlin delivered in 1960. In all, Martin built over 85 different aircraft designs, most with innovations never before used, and produced over 11,000 individual aircraft.
In addition to his impact on Middle River, Martin had an enormous influence on aircraft production, enough to give him recognition as the "father of the American aircraft manufacturing industry". He taught, mentored, and employed the founders of most subsequent major American manufacturers, including Donald Douglas (Douglas Aircraft Company), Dutch Kindleberger (North American Aviation), William Boeing (Boeing Company), James McDonnell (McDonnell Aircraft), Chance M. Vought (Chance Vought Corporation), C.A.VanDusen (Brewster), and Lawrence Bell (Bell Aircraft). Attracting large numbers of talented people to an area, like Silicon Valley today, gives birth to many new ideas. Martin’s employees also had ideas, like aeronautical engineer Howard Head’s metal skis and tennis rackets based on his Martin experience using aluminum and plastics in aircraft. One of many other examples, AAI Corporation, now a subsidiary of Textron Corp., was founded by ex-Martin employees and today is a pioneer producer of drones.
During the 1960s, after Martin had ended aircraft production, it merged with American Marietta to form Martin Marietta, and moved further into missiles and space through the Titan II-Gemini Launch Vehicle program.
Martin Marietta, Middle River produced details and subassemblies for the first four NASA External Tanks and prior to that numerous pieces of major tooling, such as: “The Trim and Weld Fixture” for the main barrel, which took 14 eighteen wheelers to get it to Michoud, LA. I (Mr. Ted Klug) was plant packaging engineer and shipping supervisor at the time.
We built the first four “Aft Superstructures” for the Ohio Class SSBN submarines
and the “Forward & Aft Escape Trunks”, “Weapons Shipping Trunk”, “Vent Valve Assemblies”, and composite “Towed Sonar Array Covers” for the first eleven Los Angeles, SSN-688 Class submarines, https://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4100&tid=100&ct=4 under contract to the General Dynamics Electric Boat Company, Groton, CT. I (Mr. Ted Klug) was the Program Planner for these contracts, during 21 years at Middle River.
When the company transitioned to R&D and composite and other technologies in the 1970s, spacecraft and missile programs moved to other production facilities. The 1980s saw continued manufacturing of aircraft and marine components such as thrust reversers, and sonar systems, robotics, and environmental technologies.
Activity in the 1990s included continued launcher design and manufacturing, aircraft subassembly production, thrust reversers, new parts manufacture and entry into the MRO business (maintenance, repair and overhaul) of aircraft parts. In March, 1995, Martin Marietta and Lockheed merged to form the current Lockheed Martin Corporation, which remains the largest defense contractor in the world and is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, employing about 125,000 worldwide. In 1998, Middle River Aircraft Systems (MRAS) split off from Lockheed Martin as a wholly owned subsidiary of GE specializing in composites, nacelles, thrust reversers, and other complex aerospace components supporting Boeing, Airbus, Pratt & Whitney, the USN, and airlines worldwide. In 2018, Singapore Technologies Engineering LTD (ST Engineering) announced that its U.S. subsidiary, Vision Technologies Aerospace Inc. (VT Aerospace) entered a purchase agreement to acquire 100% ownership from GE Aviation.
Today, both Lockheed Martin and MRAS still occupy the same facility in A, B & C Building areas that was originally opened in 1929, 90 years as of 2019, after Glenn L. Martin established himself here. Even the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum is housed in a Martin structure, a WWII hangar located on Martin State Airport, which remains one of Maryland's busiest airports and home to the Maryland Air National Guard, County and State police aviation divisions, and numerous corporate and private aircraft.
John R. Breihan
Gilbert F. Pascal