The site was settled in the early 17th cent. and Baltimore founded in 1729. The excellent harbor soon made it a center for the shipping of tobacco and grain. Shipbuilding, an early industry, flourished during the Revolution and the War of 1812 with the fitting out of many privateers, and in the early 1800s the famous Baltimore clippers were built. The nation's wars have played a large role in the city's history. When the British occupied (1777) Philadelphia, Baltimore became the meeting place of the Continental Congress. In the War of 1812 the gallant defense of Fort McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-spangled Banner."
After the War of 1812, Baltimore experienced phenomenal growth, largely because of the National Road. When the Erie Canal (completed in 1825) endangered the city's hold on trans-Allegheny traffic, Baltimore businessmen chartered (1827) the Baltimore & Ohio RR to meet the competition of New York as the ocean outlet for the West. During the Civil War, Baltimore was strongly pro-Southern in sentiment; the 6th Massachusetts Regiment, passing through the city in Apr., 1861, was attacked by a mob. A disastrous fire in 1904 destroyed almost the entire downtown but enabled the emergence of a better planned city.
In World Wars I and II, Baltimore was an important shipbuilding and supply-shipping center. During the 1960s and 70s, however, Baltimore decayed rapidly, losing population and commerce, largely to neighboring suburbs. Urban redevelopment in the late 1970s and 1980s included the construction of Harborplace (shops and restaurants) in the Inner Harbor area, the National Aquarium, shopping pavilions, hotels, a convention center, the Maryland Science Center, and the American Visionary Art Museum. Waterside renewal continued through the 1990s, and old neighborhoods such as Fells Point became newly popular. In 1983 a rapid-transit line to the suburbs was opened. In 1992, Baltimore's professional baseball team, the Orioles, moved to the new Oriole Park at Camden Yards; the National Football League's Ravens began play nearby in 1998.