By 1880 manufacturing replaced trade and made the city a nationally important industrial center. The port continued to ship increasing amounts of grain, flour, tobacco, and raw cotton to Europe. The new industries of men’s clothing, canning, tin and sheet-iron ware products, foundry and machine shop products, cars, and tobacco manufacture had the largest labor force and largest product value.
The construction of new housing was a major factor in Baltimore’s economy. Vill (1986) examines the activities of major builders between 1869 and 1896, especially as they gained access to building land and capital. Most, but not all, of the major builders were craftsmen who were entrepreneurs compared with others in the building trades, but were still small businessmen who built small numbers of houses during long careers. They worked with landowners, and both groups manipulated the city’s leasehold system to their own advantage. Builders obtained credit from a diverse array of sources, including sellers of land, building societies, and land companies. The most important source was individual lenders, who lent money in small amounts either on their own account or through lawyers and trustees overseeing funds held in trust. In spite of their important role in shaping the city, the contractors were small businessmen who rarely achieved citywide visibility.
Until the 1890s, Baltimore remained a patchwork of nationalities with white natives, German and Irish immigrants, and black Baltimoreans scattered throughout the ‘social quilt’ in heterogeneous neighborhoods.