Photo credit: History Matters , 10/2002

Property Name: American Can Company, Miller Factory
Date Listed: 12/10/2003
Inventory No.: B-1351
Location: Baltimore, Baltimore City

Description: Erected in three stages between 1890 and c. 1910, the American Can Company, Miller Factory consists of a four-story brick manufacturing plant that occupies half of a city block in the northwestern section of Baltimore City. The building displays typical features of late-19th century industrial architecture, including a vertical division into base, shaft, and attic story segments; distinct bay divisions that are demarcated by engaged brick pilasters; and a corbeled brick cornice and string coursing. The factory encompasses a U-shaped footprint and features a part-gabled, part-hipped roof structure; segmental-and round-arched windows; and a substantial roof monitor on its c. 1910 section. The original 1890 section of the plant consists of a four-story, brick rectangular block with a combination hip and gable roof. This building was seven bays long east-west by two wide. In 1895, the company expanded the building by another five bays to the east, along West 26th Street. At the same time, a seven bay by two bay rear wing was constructed on the east end of the north facade. The building acquired its U-shaped footprint c. 1910 when a large three-story, eight bay long by five bay wide addition was made to the west end of the north facade. The 1890-1895 portions of the plant display the vertical division mentioned above. The one-story base consists of 11 recessed bays along the south elevation and the southernmost two bays along the west facade. Shallow brick pilasters divide the bays. Seven of the 11 bays along the south elevation contain a set of paired windows topped by a segmental-arch transom and a brick jack-arch lintel. The remaining bays have or had doorways. The central two stories are organized around 12 evenly spaced recessed bays, each of which holds two segmental arch windows at each story. Groupings of three round-arched windows, set off by a corbeled brick stringcourse, occupy the 12 attic story bays of the building. Facing west onto North Howard Street, the main entrance occupies the west elevation of the original 1890 building. This elevation contains two distinct bays that are divided vertically into base, shaft, and attic segments by corbeled brick stringcourses set at the top of the first story and just below the sills of the fourth story windows. The door and a single window occupy the north bay, while a paired set of windows occupy the south bay. Originally, two oversized loading-bay entrances were in this location, crowned by brick jack-arches which still adorn both bays. Four groupings of three segmental-arched window openings occupy the second and third stories, and the attic holds two groups of round-arched windows. The interior of the factory has undergone numerous alterations, but the open floor plan and bay divisions remain essentially intact. The oldest, four-story sections of the building feature wood tongue-and-groove floors and heavy timber post-and-beam construction. The posts have chamfered corners to improve their resistance to fire, characteristic of the slow-burning construction methods of the period. The interior walls are mainly of painted brick. The massive wooden trusses that support the main roof are exposed on the fourth floor. Most of the original heavy iron-clad fire doors that separate the various manufacturing spaces remain in place. The c. 1910 addition displays a similar post-and-beam framing and an open floor plan on all levels. Despite changing uses over the past half century, the building remains substantially intact as a good example of late-19th century industrial architecture in Baltimore.

Significance: The American Can Company's Miller Factory is significant for its association with Baltimore's industrial development. Founded in the late 19th century, the H. F. Miller and Son Company of Baltimore was an important and early manufacturer of tin boxes and cans in the city. Between 1890 and 1895, the company erected a state-of-the-art industrial facility on North Howard Street in the northwestern section of the city. The Miller Factory building incorporated new types of mechanization that greatly improved the efficiency of the can-making process. The company was widely known for its invention of the seamless tin box and for its innovative use of modern machinery, some of which was designed and manufactured on the premises for the company's exclusive use. Also known for its ability to emboss lithographic designs directly on its tin cans and boxes, the company distributed its wares widely to Canadian, Mexican, European, African, and South American, as well as U.S. markets. In 1901, Miller joined the American Can Company, a corporation formed that year through the merger of 123 separate can manufacturers across the nation. As a result of the mergers, American Can became the largest container manufacturer in the United States. The new corporation, which expanded and updated the Miller factory building, produced tin containers there for more than 50 years. The building retains much of its original fabric and stands as an intact physical reminder of Baltimore's industrial heritage. The plant derives additional significance as a representative example of a late-19th century factory building, incorporating the decorative brickwork, multiple window forms, and substantial construction typical of the period. The plant also retains features typical of slow-burning construction of the period, including chamfered posts, closely spaced joists, and fire doors.




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