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What's Up Magazine

State Staples

Jul 14, 2014 10:41AM ● By James Houck
Every state claims bragging rights tied to the businesses that call their state home, and Maryland is no exception. We boast businesses with character and a rich heritage directly tied to Chesapeake culture. In fact, many of them have been game changers within their respective industry. Let’s visit a few of our commercial neighbors.

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Old Bay Seasoning

If there’s one taste that all Marylanders can identify with, it’s Old Bay Seasoning. Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, this iconic seafood seasoning (that comes in a yellow tin) has been a staple in pantries for generations. Its recipe was hatched by German immigrant Gustav Brunn in Baltimore, 1939, and was named, at the time, “Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning”—not exactly a catchy name. In short time, the seasoning would be rebranded as Old Bay, named after the Old Bay Line, a Chesapeake Bay-based passenger ship in the early 1900s. In 1985, the family operated company was sold to Smith Corona Machines, as was the secret spice recipe. The recipe juggled corporate hands for several years, but was finally bought by Maryland-based McCormick & Company, Inc. in 1990. Thankfully, Gustav’s original recipe is unchanged to this day and remains Maryland produced and our state’s taste of pride.

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Weems & Plath

The story of Weems & Plath’s path to becoming a world-renowned nautical instrument maven reads like a Saint-Exupéry novel; a fantastical tale of marine navigation intersecting with aviation history. At the heart of this story is Captain Philip Van Horn Weems, a 1912 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who would become known as the “Grand Old Man of Navigation.” In 1919, he was inspired to develop navigation systems for the then-blossoming aviation industry after witnessing several failed Trans-Atlantic flights. He married his naval ingenuity with determination and the Weems System of Navigation was born. After World War II, Weems founded another company, Aeronautical Services Incorporated, devoted to air navigation. Meanwhile, the original Weems company partnered with C-Plath—a German instrument manufacturer—settled in Annapolis, Maryland in the 1930s and focused on marine navigation, where it continues to do so to this day as a manufacturer and distributor of fine nautical instruments. Captain Weems is regarded as a pioneer in the field of navigation systems and was inducted posthumously into the Maritime Hall of Fall in 2003—the capstone of a distinctly Annapolitan career that has influenced the world over.

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Farr Yacht Design

Bruce Farr has made quite a name for himself within the sailing industry for near 50 years. Farr grew up in Aukland, New Zealand and by age 22, won his first open ocean sailing race aboard a vessel he designed. This spurred his reputation as a young, talented yacht designer, which he would eventually grow into the booming design firm, Farr Yacht Design. In 1980, Farr relocated operations to Annapolis, Maryland, where the team continues to be a leader in racing yacht design and marine technology today. Though Bruce no longer heads the company (having retired), current President Patrick Shaughnessy continues the Farr tradition of teamwork and passion saying, “We put our heart and soul into the work, and I know that we have fun doing it as a team. I think the fact that we have fun rubs off on the work. I think our clients see that, and I think that’s important. Boating is about a love for the water.” This year continuing into 2015, Farr Yacht Design’s work will be in the limelight during the 2014–15 Volvo Ocean Race—their Volvo Ocean 65 is the chosen design this year.

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PRS Guitars

Guitar luthier Paul Reed Smith inadvertently started his company from scratch; as in, build his own guitar, which he did as an independent study project while attending St. Mary’s College in 1975. Thirty-plus years after fabricating that first instrument, the guitar industry innovator is helping thousands worldwide achieve their rock star dreams. To say that Smith has built a guitar dynasty is not an understatement. One of the early defining moments for PRS Guitars was when Carlos Santana played his custom PRS when performing on the Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow show in 1981. That helped cement Smith’s dream to establish PRS Guitars. Four years later, in ’85, Smith founded a small workshop in historic Annapolis. And from those humble beginnings, PRS Guitars grew to become the third largest electric guitar manufacturer in the United States. Now based in Stevensville, the company produces crème de la crème instruments for the who’s who of guitarists and employs hundreds of local residents.

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A.M. Kroop & Sons/Kroop’s Goggles

There are few things more ingrained in Maryland’s history than horseracing; and the Kroop companies—headquartered in Laurel and Savage—have had the inside track on several fundamental elements of the sport. Founded in the 1907 when Latvian immigrant Adolph Michael Kroop landed in America, the A.M. Kroop shoemaking company hit its stride when it relocated from New York City to Maryland in 1927. With the sport of horse racing peaking and Kroop’s close proximity to several Maryland tracks, the business’s focus zeroed in on jockey boots, jodhpurs, exercise, and English boots. Business was good and Kroop’s reputation earned the company a request to fashion jockey goggles. The resulting prototype worked so well, it became a staple in the industry and the company still commands a 75 percent market share of such goggles today. Look closely during the next Derby or Preakness and you’ll see Kroop’s goggles worn by nearly every jockey.