Port History              Since 1923

In 1923, Wilmington, Delaware emerged as an international seaport at the exact location where the Swedish settlers first landed on the Christina River aboard the Kalmar Nyckel, back in 1638.

1913 - Wilmington's citizens  voted to build their own deep-water port which would support the growing local shipbuilding, railroad car construction and carriage making industries.  

1917 - Wilmington appointed a Board of Harbor Commissioners, which was ordered to prepare an economic development plan for Wilmington's waterfront.

1920 - Wilmington approved a bond issue of $2.5 million, and 101 acres of land were purchased from the Lobdell Car Wheel Company.

In 1923 the new Port facility included:

Berthing area

1,210 ft.

Land area

105 acres

Open storage

10 acres

Transit storage

48,000 sf.

Warehouse storage

120,000 sf.

Water depth


Annual tonnage


1922 - Completion of the Port's construction. 

1923 - The Port was officially opened. Three cranes with 5-to 30-ton capacity were purchased enabling the Port to handle shipment of lumber, wood pulp, quebracho logs, cork, jute, burlap, lead, ore, fertilizer and petroleum products.

1928 - Completion of additional development projects such as wharf extension with accompanying tracks for cranes. 

1934 - The Port handled 360,336 tons of cargo.

1938 - The Port handled 540,000 tons of cargo.

1941 - World War II creates a labor crisis due to enlistment of most of the Port's workforce.

1948 - The Port of Wilmington is  busy again. By 1953, shipments top 850,000 tons.

1955 - Completion of construction of additional 400 by 420 ft. warehouse and new lumber storage shed.

1961 - Wilmington's dock extended by 1000 ft. to a total of 3,060 ft., which accommodated seven vessels. Also, the Port purchased a  gantry crane with 55 ton capacity.

1961 - Christina River channel was deepened from 30 ft. to 37 ft. deep, and widened from 450 to 650 ft.

1965 - Captain Harry H. Rowland and his son H. Hickman "Hick" Rowland, Jr. established Wilmington's first tug company, based at the POW.

1972 - DelMonte makes Wilmington its principal North American port-of-discharge for bananas and pineapples.

1972 - First recommendation by the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce's Board of Directors encouraging the establishment of an independent Port Authority which would manage the Port of Wilmington. 

1972 - The Delaware River Basin Commission approves plans for expansion and modification of a petroleum unloading facility and an oil pipeline from the terminal to Delmarva Power and Light's Edgemoor generating station.

1974 - Half of all Fiat automobiles sold in the US are imported through Wilmington's terminal.

1975 - DelMonte signs a contract with POW for weekly shipments of fruit and lease of cold storage warehouse facility.

1976 - Volkswagen of America chooses Wilmington as their auto hub for imports of Volkswagen, Audi and Porsches to North America.  POW constructs a special floating dock to serve the automobile trade.

1978 - First shipments of Chilean fruit arrive to POW.

1978 - The Port of Wilmington Maritime Society (POWMS) is founded by a group of area business and community leaders to support the activities of Delaware's only deepwater marine terminal.

1981 - POW purchases a $3.78 million multi-purpose crane, with 1,000 tons per hour lift capacity for bulk cargo and 35 tons lift capacity for containers. In addition, it can lift other cargoes with a hook or magnet. 

1984 - 615 acres at the POW are designated as a Foreign Trade Zone, hence imported goods stored within the zone are not subjected to duty or quotas until entered into Customs territory. 

1984 - Construction was completed on a new 100,000 square ft. fruit handling facility. 

1984 - Citrosuco Paulista establishes its facility at the POW for handling and cold storage of Brazilian bulk orange juice concentrate. Their facility becomes the nation's largest juice concentrate storage facility at dock side.

1987 - POW purchases a $4.8 million multi-purpose crane, with 800 tons per hour lift capacity for bulk cargo.

1987 - Volkswagen of America completes a major expansion and renovation of their facility at the POW, to approximately 80 acres which includes new administration buildings. This facility became Volkswagen's largest facility in the US.

1987 - First weekly shipment of Dole Fresh Fruit bananas and pineapples from Ecuador and Honduras.

1987 - Chiquita Banana inaugurates weekly container shipments of bananas from Costa Rica and Honduras.

1989 - The Seamen's Center of Wilmington is established and opens its doors in January of 1990.

1991 - Arrival of first regular imports of New Zealand beef by Kyokuyo Shipping Line.

1992 - Completion of $11 million wharf extension project, which provided the seventh berth on the Christina River for handling of fruit cargo.  In addition, 140,000 sf. cold storage facility was added adjacent to the new berth.

June 1995 - The State of Delaware purchases the Port from the City of Wilmington and creates the Diamond State Port Corporation to manage and operate the Port.

1995-1999 - Two state-of-the-art cold storage facilities are constructed replacing old outdated warehouses.

1996 - Volkswagen of America consolidates its US East Coast auto import operations and closes its Wilmington auto port.

1997 - Volkswagen of America reopens its Wilmington auto port, and signs a three year lease agreement with the Port. 

1999 - POW purchases a new $5.6 million container and multi-purpose crane, capable of lifting 50 tons.

2000 - A new 90,000 sf. dry cargo warehouse is completed. 

August 2002 - A $27.5 million dedicated Auto & RoRo Berth, the Port's first berth on the Delaware River, is completed. 

March 2006 - Warehouse H, a 92,000 sf. cold-storage warehouse is completed and leased to Dole Fresh Fruit Company for 15 years.

October 2007 - The Port of Wilmington is the first seaport to roll out the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) card.

September 2008 - Chiquita Fresh North America signed an 11-year lease contract for their tropical fruit weekly service.

January 2009 - Höegh Autoliners, Inc. and AutoPort, Inc. sign 10-year land leases with the DSPC.

November 2010 - Orbital Sciences ships the first Taurus II Booster Cores for resupply missions to the International Space Station
via the Port of Wilmington, Delaware

Photos - courtesy of the Port of Wilmington's archive. 

©2016 Port of Wilmington, DE, Diamond State Port Corporation. All Rights Reserved.