Hessie Abraham Davidson, former chairman of the Davidson Transfer & Storage Co., who counted among his many interesting and challenging moving jobs overseeing the moving of the U.S. Constitution, died Sept. 18 of complications from a stroke at Springhouse Assisted Living in Pikesville. The longtime Slade Avenue resident was 98.
The son of Russian immigrants Isaac W. and Emma Davidson, he was born in Baltimore and raised on Hollins Street and later in a home on Groveland Avenue.
Mr. Davidson's father immigrated to Chicago and went to work for a railroad. When he lost his job during a strike, he moved to Baltimore in 1884, taking a job in a cigar factory. In 1896, he purchased a horse and wagon for $125 and started a business called Davidson Transfer, which he operated from a curbside stand at Eutaw and Lombard streets, hauling household goods and freight from piers.
"He also hauled the trunks of newly arrived immigrants who landed in South Baltimore, bolts of cloth and later on, the trunks of Minsky's Burlesque," said his grandson, Richard Davidson of Owings Mills.
He provided drayage for clothing manufacturers in the city's Redwood and Lombard streets garment district, transporting cut and trimmed cloth to shops where workers assembled them into finished garments. He would carry them back to the manufacturers, where they were packed for shipping, then transport the garments to railroad terminals.
By the time of the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, he had several teams of horses. But the elder Mr. Davidson soon saw the value of trucks over horseflesh and in 1914 purchased his first Autocar truck, which enabled him to expand his business and move goods and freight between Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York.
The original No. 2 truck is part of the permanent collection of the Baltimore Museum of Industry, family members said.
The elder Mr. Davidson's eight sons entered the business, including Hessie Abraham Davidson, who graduated in 1931 from Forest Park High School. He attended the Johns Hopkins University and went to work full time in the family business in 1934.
"My father loved and was interested in people. He liked the challenge of a move, whether complex or simple, and organizing it," said Richard Davidson, who later went to work for the company. "Every job was different, because people moved for different reasons. Everyone's circumstances were different. He brought personal attention to his job. He was selling a product."
During the early days of World War II, Mr. Davidson oversaw the secret move of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights from the National Archives in Washington to Fort Knox, Ky., for safekeeping.
"This move came about when the government contacted the company. We never got a call to move it back, so it may still be there," said his son with a laugh.
One of Mr. Davidson's more complicated projects was moving the Social Security Administration from downtown Baltimore to its Woodlawn headquarters in 1960.
"He had to move eight buildings, and it took three months to do," his son said.
Other large moves included moving Sinai Hospital from its old East Monument Street facility in 1959 to the 2400 block of W. Belvedere Ave., the Motor Vehicle Administration to Glen Burnie, and the Westinghouse Electric Corp. to Linthicum from West Baltimore.
"He even moved the Freedom 7 space capsule," his son said. "He also did a lot of moving for the Department of Defense, which was one of his biggest customers. He was moving people across the world."
Mr. Davidson directed the move and warehousing of the 402-by-45-foot "Pantheon de la Guerre," billed at the time as the world's largest painting, which depicted World War I scenes and had been completed in 1918 by 128 French artists.
The painting, later donated to the Kansas City Museum, had been purchased by local restaurateurs William and Frances Haussner.
"When the painting was rolled out, Mr. Haussner looked at it from a helicopter," Richard Davidson said.
Mr. Davidson rose through company ranks, becoming president during the 1960s of Davidson Transfer & Storage Co. He was also a founding member and a former president of United Van Lines, serving on the company's board from 1948 to 1970.
He was chairman of the board of Davidson Transfer & Storage Co. at the time of his retirement in 1979.
In 1985, Richard Davidson purchased the company from the family and operated it until 2008, when he sold it to Security Storage Co. of Washington.
Hessie Abraham Davidson served as president of the Baltimore Chapter of the National Defense Transportation Association and of the Maryland Movers and Warehousemen's Association.
He also had been a member of the National Furniture Warehousemen's Association and was chairman of the American Trucking Association's Regular Common Carrier Conference.
Mr. Davidson maintained a lifelong interest in the theater, and in his early 20s, wrote and performed marionette shows. During the 1980s, he was host of "The Later Years," which was broadcast on the Towson University radio station.
He was a fan of the Baltimore Colts, the Ravens and the Orioles, and was a world traveler.
Mr. Davidson had been a member for 45 years of Chizuk Amuno Congregation and served as president from 1957 to 1959 of the Board of Jewish Education.
His wife of 71 years, the former Charlotte Sirkis, died last year.
Graveside services were held Wednesday at United Hebrew Cemetery.
In addition to his son, Mr. Davidson is survived by two daughters, Sally Katz of Pikesville and Joan Reich of Pittsburgh; six grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.