Loane Brothers History
Loane Bros. Inc. has survived 200 years through frequent adaptations, whether they be in making sails, Civil War military tents, or possibly the nation’s first awnings.
J.W. Loane and Sons
Loane Brothers was founded in 1815 by Joseph Loane when he arrived in Baltimore from Portsea, England and set up shop as a sail maker. The first known address was on Smith’s Wharf, which was a privately owned shipping pier in the Baltimore Basin (now known as The Inner Harbor). Smith’s Wharf was located at the base of South St., in the vicinity of today’s Pier 1, where the USS Constellation is currently docked. Joseph later moved to Bowley’s Wharf, where Piers 3 & 4 are situated now, home to Baltimore’s National Aquarium today. Several of his sail plans are located in the Maryland Historical Society. His drawings for a Baltimore clipper were used for the sails of The Pride of Baltimore and The Pride of Baltimore II, Baltimore’s current floating ambassador of goodwill to the world.
Joseph married three times and fathered 13 children. One of his sons, Jabez Whitford Loane (1819 – 1901) apprenticed with his father from an early age (starting at 13!). He finished his apprenticeship upon his 21st birthday and entered the business officially in 1840, where he worked for 60 years. The company was known as Joseph Loane, then Joseph Loane and Son. It became J.W. Loane by 1850 and then J.W. Loane and Sons in the 1870’s. The business continued the primary business of sail making, but also produced awnings, flags, tents and covers for Conestoga wagons. Loane would sew, by hand, whatever was needed. Based on a drawing from France, Jabez purportedly fabricated the first window awning in the United States. Loane Brothers still makes window awnings today.
The Civil War Era - Adapting to the Times
During the Civil War, Jabez was dedicated to making tents & flags for the Union Army. A surviving relic from that era, a 35 star American flag from 1863 -1864, is currently on display at our present Loane Brothers location. Also in our archives is a letter from Captain John C.O. Redington, Co. C, 60th regiment, N.Y. S.V., thanking Jabez for a flag he made for his regiment. The letter dates from February, 1862.
Early Tent Rentals
Pavement CanopyAs the steam engine slowly replaced wind as the primary maritime power source, Loane adapted, concentrating on awnings as well as flags and bunting, tent manufacture and even rental. The earliest tent record we have is of a 40’x 60’ wedding canopy rented in 1860 (for $200.00!). JW Loane was hired to decorate Baltimore’s City Hall for its dedication in 1876.
By the late 19th century, Loane Bros. was renting “Pavement Canopies” which could be rented for weddings as a covering from the street to the building “to protect the bride from the carriage to the door”. They apparently were quite popular. We still have records from that period of the various sizes of the front walks of most every church and synagogue in Baltimore.
Near the end of his life, Jabez wrote a brief biographical account of his life, which is pretty interesting. Throughout his lifetime he was witness to some remarkable parts of Baltimore’s history.
Upon Jabez’ death in 1901, the ownership of the firm passed to his two sons, Ernest King Loane and Jabez Whitford Loane, Jr. By 1902 the firm became known as Loane Brothers.
Our Locations Throughout the Years
Our location has changed many times over the years. The first century was mostly centered along the waterfront. Beyond Smith’s Wharf and Bowley’s Wharf, we were at one location called Bishops Alley, and at a few locations on Pratt St. The 35 star flag was made at 67 W. Pratt St. By the turn of the century we were in the unit block of N. Gay St. The great Baltimore fire of 1904 barely missed Loane Brothers at 11 N. Gay St., by a matter of feet. The fire burned half of the block. It also burned every previous address that the company had occupied. After Gay St. we were at 326 N. Calvert St. and then 212 Clay St. By the 1930’s the entire business was located at 117 W. Mulberry St., a four story early 19th century row house. By that time, the company was run by brothers Ernest Morgan Loane and Jabez W. Loane III, who were the sons of Ernest King Loane. Together they orchestrated one of the largest jobs the company has ever undertaken: the tenting of the grandstands for the Fair of the Iron Horse, the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, in the fall of 1927. In World War II, Loane Brothers manufactured covers for gun turrets for B-52 bombers, as well as provided bunting for the launching of the Liberty Ships at Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard.
Specialization and Expansion
By the 1950’s and 60’s, air conditioning became more popular and started replacing awnings as the primary means of cooling a house. Under the direction of E. Morgan Loane, Jr. (known as “Puttie”), and his partner, W.H. Thomas Dell, the company started turning their emphasis towards tent rental, specializing in tents for private events. Prior to this time, rental tents were likely drab… either khaki, dark green or dirty. Tommy Dell and Puttie Loane offered “attractive” colors and patterns such as green, blue & white striped, yellow & orange striped, and the popular turquoise with a floral lining (pink cabbage roses on a white background on the underside of the tent). They also added accessories such as dance floors, bandstands, decorative ceiling liners, lighting, and eventually, heat (air conditioning for tents was 30 years away).
During this period, Loane Brothers acquired James A. Nicholson and Son, Inc., a competing Baltimore awning, tent and flag house. Nicholson made, among other things, Maryland state and county flags, and actually designed several of the Maryland county flags as they became needed. We still have many of the original designs (and ones that were proposed but not selected) for many Maryland counties. Having been a proprietorship for almost 150 years, Loane Brothers became incorporated upon purchasing Nicholson. In 1964 we moved to Nicholson’s building, another 19th century townhouse at 310 N. Eutaw St., where we remained for 25 years. We also maintained a warehouse on Deepdene Rd. in Roland Park. By 1989, lack of warehouse space and parking lead us to Clipper Mill Rd. in Hampden. While here, we started our party rental division, which is a natural outgrowth of the tent rental industry. By 1998 we were in Middle River and in 2004 we moved to our present 80,000 sq. ft. location on E. Joppa Rd. in Towson.
Loane Bros. Inc. - A Proud Legacy Continues
Today there are Loane brothers again at Loane Bros. Scott and Bryan Loane (Puttie’s sons and Joseph’s great, great, great grandsons). Bryan is President and is assisted by his brother, Scott. The vice presidents and fellow partners are Charlie Balcer and Mike O’Connor.
Over the years, Loane Brothers has evolved into one company with three related divisions: The tent division, the party rental division, and the awning division. Each division has its own staff, sales team, and fleet of trucks. Our third and oldest division, the awning division, still continues to design, manufacture, install and service awnings, as well as manufacture tents and other custom fabric products. Though today’s fabrics tend less toward canvas and more toward vinyl and synthetics, our sewing room seems just as busy as it must have been 100 years ago.
The 35 star Flag
The 35 star American flag we have on display in our office was made by JW Loane during the Civil War. The flag was made somewhere between 1863 and 1865. The flag of the United States had 35 stars starting on July 4, 1863, when West Virginia was accepted into the Union as a state, after seceding from Confederate Virginia. Nevada joined the Union as a state on Oct. 31, 1864; the 36th star, however, was not officially added to the Flag until July 4, 1865, after the war. The star pattern of concentric circles in the field of the flag is unusual. In those days the location and pattern of the stars was up to the discretion of the flag maker. An official pattern of the stars was not essential to the design of the Flag of the United States until 1911. The rather large flag (6 ft. 4 in. x 9 ft.) is said to have flown over the Frederick County courthouse during the Civil War. It was located by flag collector, and specialist, Paul Boucher in the 1980’s. It was the first civil war flag he had seen with a label in it (actually a stencil saying: JW Loane 67 W. Pratt Street Baltimore). It was restored and mounted by textile conservator Julia Brennan, who does similar work for the Smithsonian Institute.