Since The Sun was first printed in Baltimore on May 17, 1837, it has spent 185 years illuminating Maryland’s accomplishments and failures. Nearly two centuries of local and global history lives in the pages of the paper of record.
The newspaper promoted innovation and progress in the United States, but it also participated in advertising the slave trade and devalued the stories of Black Americans. Moving forward, The Baltimore Sun continues to chronicle the city’s joys and its sorrows and events both large and small — on newsprint but also through phones and computer screens across Maryland and beyond.
To celebrate 185 years of The Baltimore Sun, we took a look back in our archives to highlight notable news events for each decade. Of course, this is just a sampling and not meant to be superlative. There are plenty of important events that aren’t mentioned here — both historical, like the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, and from the more recent past, like the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 and the Capital Gazette shooting in 2018.
Here is a list of some legendary moments informed by the Sunpapers.
March 7, 1839 — Baltimore City College was established and enrolled 46 students. The high school would later be known as one of the largest public schools in the country, where many Baltimore celebrities have attended, and is the third oldest high school in the nation.
Oct. 7, 1849 — Edgar Allan Poe died, the distinguished poet, scholar and literary critic, died from an unknown illness in Baltimore after being sick for about five days. “This announcement, coming so sudden and unexpected, will cause poignant regret among all who admire genius, and have sympathy for the frailties too often attending it,” The Sun reported in 1849. Poe’s Baltimore rowhouse became a museum a century later.
Jan. 1, 1853 — Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first steam-operated railway in the United States, was extended 380 miles — the first to link Baltimore on the Atlantic to Wheeling, West Virginia on the Ohio River. About 50 passengers traveled in a mail train from Baltimore to Wheeling in 15 hours with stops along the way. The revolution confirmed B&O President Thomas Swann’s prediction that “the traveler would be able to eat his breakfast in Baltimore and take an early supper at Wheeling,” The Sun reported.
July 24, 1868 — During Baltimore’s “Black Friday Flood,” fierce rain overflowed Jones Falls’ banks, and a rising tide quickly grew to reach 20 feet. Horses, houses, humans and bridges were swept away, while a terrifying number of rats scurried across the ground. The storm killed 50 people and countless animals, destroyed 2,000 homes and caused millions of dollars in property damage. Water, gas and communication across the city were severed.
The Sun Iron Building was flooded, but the newspaper prevailed in publishing the next day. “Many ludicrous things occurred, making the streets appear more like Venice during a carnival than a sober American city,” The Sun reported in 1868. In the aftermath, the smell of death was overpowering, and an outbreak of typhoid fever followed.
June 16, 1877 — “Railroad War in Maryland” read the headline of The Sun’s coverage of the great Baltimore and Ohio Railroad worker strike that sparked a national labor movement. The strike started in Baltimore over a 17-cent reduction in daily wages and a shortened work week.
Protests were mostly nonviolent across multiple towns until railroad baron John W. Garrett asked Gov. John Lee Carroll to send in the National Guard. A crowd of 15,000, alerted to the guardsmen’s presence by a fire bell, marched down Eutaw Street, where they met guardsmen and threw rocks. The troopers fired their bayonets on the crowd, and 10 people were killed in the chaos. “The scene … was one of terror,” The Sun reported.
Oct. 13, 1882 — “Always in the Lead!” proclaimed The Sun after the Iron Building became the first in Maryland to be powered by electricity. The newspaper considered itself on the cusp of technological advances, such as adopting the telegraph before its competitors in other American cities. A dynamo was flipped on just after 8 p.m., stunning all who witnessed the invention. “The current of electricity generated by it passed through the wires to the lamps, the carbon filaments glowed, and instantaneously there was a brilliant effusion of light. It is so pure and white that in comparison with it a gaslight appears a smoky yellow,” The Sun reported.
Aug. 13, 1892 — John H. Murphy Sr. established The Afro-American, a nationally esteemed weekly publication and the first Baltimore newspaper written for the city’s Black communities. In 30 years, its reputation and circulation grew to become the largest Black paper in the United States. The paper exposed injustice, lynchings and corruption and persistently promoted civil rights movements. “The paper also found success by presenting a complete portrait of black life — weddings, social events, births, sports, personalities — that was all but ignored by the white press,” The Sun reported in 1992 on the publication’s 100th anniversary.
May 12, 1902 — Joe Gans of Baltimore became the first Black American to win boxing’s world championship light heavyweight title. Gans, a studious 26-year-old boxer who weighed 133 pounds, faced Frank Erne in a rematch. This time, Gans knocked out Erne in mere minutes of the first round.
“The end came with startling suddenness. The men were scarcely warmed up when Gans, trying cautiously, caught Erne napping and landed a hard right on the ear, which appeared to jar Frank badly,” The Sun wrote.
Nov. 7, 1910 — Hubert Latham became the first person to fly an airplane over Baltimore in a Sun-sponsored event to boost subscriptions. Latham was awarded $5,000 to fly a monoplane through the city on his way to an airplane event in Halethorpe. Crowds, spellbound by their first time seeing a “flying machine,” jammed the streets and rooftops to catch a glimpse.
“A large crowd had assembled on the roof of The Sun building, and from that vantage point Latham’s flight was watched with the greatest interest. Soon after noon whistle began blowing far off to the southwest. “He’s coming! He’s coming!” ran like a thrill rather than a whisper or murmur through the crowd,” The Sun wrote.
Nov. 2, 1920 — “Election Day Dawns, All Eyes on Women,” reads The Sun’s headline on the first election after the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. In Maryland, 200,000 women voted in a landslide presidential election that saw Republican Warren Harding defeat Democratic James Cox.
“Like so many revolutions destined to shake a nation to its depths, this one came and passed without seeming to ruffle the surface of affairs. People who sensed the significance of this first equal suffrage national election tightened their nerves for shock, but there was no shock,” wrote The Sun, which opposed woman’s suffrage for the threat of “increasing the quantity without improving the quality” of voters.
Nov. 1, 1938 — In the midst of the Great Depression and global tensions ahead of World War II, a record 40,000 spectators packed Pimlico Race Course to see the legendary horse race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. “In one of the greatest match races ever run in the ancient history of the turf, the valiant Seabiscuit not only conquered the great War Admiral but, beyond this, he ran the beaten son of Man o’War into the dirt and dust of Pimlico,” reported The Sun. Seabiscuit and jockey George Woolf won by three lengths, breaking a track record in front of a thrilled crowd.
March 25, 1949 — Parts of Lexington Market, first established in 1803, were burned to the ground in a roaring fire the morning before a busy Saturday market. The fire started from an electric wire. Many stall owners did not have insurance, and the market itself would take three years to reopen. “Flames leaped hundreds of feet in the air from the roaring stalls. Cornices on Lexington Street buildings opposite the market caught up the tongues of flame and blazed out,” described The Sun.
Jan. 20, 1955 — Morgan State University students hold an impromptu sit-in at Read’s Drug Stores on Lexington and Howard streets to protest being denied service, which resulted in 37 Read’s chain stores in the area desegregating. The event, which occurred five years before the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins in North Carolina, expanded to attempts to desegregate other Baltimore businesses.
Morgan State students, who organized with the Baltimore Committee on Racial Equality, also had a sit-in at a movie theater that ended in arrests.
“‘We will serve all customers throughout our entire stores, including the fountains, and this becomes effective immediately,’ was the official statement of the company president,” The Sun reported. The decision came shortly after the first sit-in on Jan. 20, 1955.
Oct. 9, 1966 — The Orioles won their first ever world championship after sweeping the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 1966 team included legendary players Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer. More than 54,000 fans packed Memorial Stadium to watch the World Series win. At the end of the series, Baltimore exploded into what The Sun called the zaniest celebration since the end of World War II. Jubilant revelers practically trampled moving cars on The Block, lighting firecrackers and chanting “Birds! Birds! Birds!”
Dec. 8, 1971 — William Donald Schaefer was sworn in as the 44th mayor of Baltimore, a position he served for 15 years until January 1987. During his tenure, Schaefer championed big development projects that Baltimore is known for today, including Harborplace, Camden Yards, the National Aquarium, the Convention Center and the light rail. He later served as Maryland governor for two terms. At his inauguration ceremony, Schaefer said his administration would follow a “calmly and carefully set course of action” toward rebuilding the city and the population’s morale, The Sun reported.
May 19, 1986 — The Pride of Baltimore, a hand-built wooden schooner and replica of a 19th century ship, sank 240 miles north of Puerto Rico. Four people died, including the ship’s captain, and eight crew members were stranded at sea, floating in a raft for nearly five days. The vessel sank after a freak and violent white squall blew it on its side in one minute. The storm hit so quickly that crew members couldn’t send a distress signal, and news of the sunken vessel first came after a Norwegian tanker rescued the lost members from the Atlantic.
Oct. 9, 1995 — Pope John Paul II visited Baltimore in a day of prayer and joy for Maryland Catholics. After a year of anticipating his visit, the pope held an emotional Mass to a stadium crowd at Camden Yards, toured soup kitchens and saw Baltimore’s grand cathedrals.
“Although he appeared haggard on this final day of a five-day U.S. visit, the 75-year-old pope displayed some of the personality and warmth that have charmed millions, even many who disagree with his views on the church’s moral teachings,” wrote The Sun.
Jan. 28, 2001 — “Glorious!” The Sun’s headline exclaimed after the Baltimore Ravens romped the New York Giants, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV to take home the city’s first NFL championship in 30 years. The Ravens’ defense dominated the Giants in a wild and one-sided victory. The victory was a turning point for fans still bereaved from the Baltimore Colts’ departure from the city in the middle of the night for Indianapolis in 1984.
“Call it the purple reign. Call it whatever you want,” The Sun reported. “It took 30 years and no small amount of heartache and tears, but Baltimore is on top of the football world once again.
Jan. 6, 2010 — Sheila Dixon resigned, part of a plea deal that ended a years-long corruption investigation and the tenure of Baltimore’s first female mayor. Dixon was convicted of perjury and embezzlement and barred from holding any city or state post for a two-year period.
State prosecutors investigated Dixon for four years, finding that her former boyfriend, developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, gifted her lavish presents that she did not disclose when she was City Council president. A jury of Baltimore residents also found her guilty of embezzlement for using a $500 gift card donated for charity by developer Patrick Turner to buy her family a gaming system.
The decade would see another mayoral resignation and indictment in 2019, when Catherine Pugh was charged with fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy in relation to her “Healthy Holly” children’s book series.
March 12, 2020 — In a move that signaled only the beginning of the biggest global public health crisis in recent history, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a statewide closure of public schools in response to the coronavirus pandemic. What started as a two-week break would turn into two years of school — and life — looking nothing like what had ever been experienced before.
“The extraordinary closing of the state’s schools, which will send about 1 million children home and create ripple effects as parents scramble to find alternative care and adjust their work schedules, are part of a sweeping set of directives from Gov. Larry Hogan,” The Sun reported.
Soon, hospitals would be overwhelmed, and thousands of Marylands would die, and continue to die, as the coronavirus surged on. In 2022, people have a better defense with a variety of vaccines.
Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.