The Port of Wilmington is the largest city in the State of Delaware. Lying where the Christina River and Brandywine Creek flow into the Delaware River, the Port of Wilmington is about 40 kilometers southwest of Philadelphia and 20 kilometers southwest of the Port of Camden. It is New Jersey's main port and its financial, commercial, and industrial center. In 2005, the Port of Wilmington was home to almost 73 thousand people.
The Port of Wilmington is a busy deep-water port that serves more than 400 vessels and handles more than four million tons of cargo each year. The Port of Wilmington is also the major center for the United States' credit card industry, and it contains other industries like insurance, banking, legal services, and auto manufacturing. Over half of the publicly-traded companies in the US, and more than 60% of the Fortune 500 companies in the US have their headquarters in the Port of Wilmington.
The Port of Wilmington is located on the Christina River on the spot where Swedish settlers landed in 1638. The settlement, called Fort Christina, is the oldest permanent European settlement on the Delaware River. In 1655, the Dutch captured Fort Christina and, in 1664, they were driven out by the British.
For its first century, the Port of Wilmington was a small agricultural village. When the Quakers moved there in the 1730s, the Port of Wilmington began to develop, and the city became a busy market town. In 1739, the Quakers got a borough charter from the proprietor of Pennsylvania, Thomas Penn, who named the town for his friend, the Earl of Wilmington.
The Port of Wilmington was the biggest town in Delaware by the time the American Revolution began. In 1777, British troops occupied the town. After United States independence, the Port of Wilmington grew quickly due to its proximity to other ports, the plentiful waterpower in the area, and the rich farmlands. By the 1790s, the Brandywine Creek was dotted with gristmills, paper mills, and sawmills, and the flour mills in the Port of Wilmington were the biggest in the United States.
In the early 19th Century, French immigrant Eleuthere Irenee du Pont built a gunpowder mill there, and the modern giant DuPont was born in Wilmington. The Port of Wilmington's industrial development was further enhanced when the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad arrived in 1837.
Much of the Port of Wilmington's growth happened during the United States' Civil War in the middle 19th Century. The war generated huge demand for goods and materials that were produced in the Port of Wilmington. Established businesses expanded, and new industries came to the city. Among the war-related goods produced in the Port of Wilmington were gunpowder, ships, rail cars, tents, uniforms, shoes, and blankets.
By 1868, the Port of Wilmington produced more iron ships than were made in the rest of the country. It also produced more gunpowder than any other city in the US, and it was a leader in the carriage- and leather-producing industries. As a result of the prosperity brought by the Civil War, the city expanded with many large homes and tree-line boulevards.
Both World War I and World War II accelerated industrial development in the Port of Wilmington. Its shipyards, steel foundries, and chemical and machinery manufacturers operated 24 hours a day.
The modern Port of Wilmington was founded in 1923. In 1913, the city's voters decided to build a deep-water port to serve local industries that manufactured ships, railroad cars, and carriages. In 1917, a Board of Harbor Commissioners was formed to create an economic development plan for the city's waterfront. When the city approved a bond issue in 1920, it purchased forty-one hectares of land from the Lobdell Car Company as a home for the new port.
When the Port of Wilmington went into operation in 1923, it contained almost 369 meters of berthing area with a depth of seven meters, four hectares of open storage, 4.5 thousand square meters of transit storage, and 11.1 thousand square meters of warehouses. In 1923, the Port of Wilmington handled 17 thousand tons of cargo that included lumber, hardwood logs, wood pulp, jute, cork, burlap, ore, lead, fertilizer, and petroleum products. By 1938, the Port of Wilmington handled 540 thousand tons of cargo.
During the 1940s, World War II brought a labor shortage to the port when most of its workers enlisted in the US Armed Forces. By 1948, the port was once again busy, handling over 850 thousand tons of cargo. In 1955, the Port of Wilmington added over 15 thousand square meters of warehouse space and a new lumber storage shed to its facilities.
In 1961, the Port of Wilmington extended its dock to 932.7 meters, making it possible to handle seven vessels. The port also deepened its channel to 11.3 meters and widened the channel to 198.1 meters. The first tug company was established by Captain Harry Rowland in 1965.
In the 1970s, the Port of Wilmington underwent several changes that demonstrated its growing importance. In 1972, Del Monte made the Port of Wilmington its main port-of-discharge in North American for bananas and pineapples. The State's Chamber of Commerce recommended that an independent port authority be established to manage the Port of Wilmington. In that year, the Delaware River Basin Commission approved expansion and modification plans for a petroleum unloading facility and an oil pipeline from the terminal to power generation stations. By 1974, 50% of the Fiat automobiles sold in the United States were imported through the Port of Wilmington. In 1975, Del Monte entered into a contract with the port for lease of its cold storage warehouse and weekly shipments of fruit. In 1976, the Port of Wilmington was selected by Volkswagen of America to be their hub for imports of Volkswagen, Audi, and Porches to the United States, and the port built a special floating dock to serve that cargo. In 1978, business and community leaders formed the Port of Wilmington Maritime Society to support the port's only deep-water marine terminal.
The Port of Wilmington continued to grow through the decade of the 1980s. In 1984, almost 249 hectares of land within the Port of Wilmington were designated as a Free Trade Zone, and the port added a new 9.3 thousand square meter fruit-handling facility. That year, Citrosuco Paulista began operating the largest facility of its kind in the US to handle and store bulk orange juice concentrate from Brazil. In 1987, Volkswagen of America expanded and renovated their Port of Wilmington facility, making it the largest Volkswagen facility in the United States. Also in 1987, the first weekly shipments of Dole Fresh Fruit bananas and pineapples arrived from Ecuador and Honduras, and Chiquita Banana began weekly container shipments of bananas to the Port of Wilmington from Costa Rica and Honduras.
In the 1980s, the Port of Wilmington underwent unprecedented growth in commercial construction and employment when the State's laws governing banks were liberalized. Many new financial institutions relocated to Delaware. In 1986, the State further adopted legislation to attract finance and insurance firms, and many international and national banking and insurance firms are headquartered in the Port of Wilmington today.
In 1991, the Port of Wilmington welcomed the first imports of beef from New Zealand. In 1992, a wharf extension project was finished, adding a seventh berth for handling fruit cargoes, and a new cold storage facility added 13 thousand square meters of handling and storage capacity adjacent to the new berth.
In 1995, the State of Delaware bought the Port of Wilmington from the city and established the Diamond State Port Corporation to operate and manage the port.
In the 1990s, the Port of Wilmington began to revitalize the waterfront area, and those efforts continue today. New luxury high-rise apartment buildings have appeared along the Christina River, and the new residential projects continue to change the waterfront atmosphere.
In 2000, a new 8.3 thousand square meter warehouse for dry cargo was finished. In 2002, the Port of Wilmington's first berth on the Delaware River, dedicated to automobile and roll-on/roll-off cargoes, was completed. In 2006, Dole Fresh Fruit Company leased a new 8.5 thousand square meter cold storage warehouse at the Port of Wilmington.
In late 2007, the Port of Wilmington became the United States' first port to use the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card to enhance national security at the nation's transportation centers.