Enoch Pratt clerked in a Boston hardware firm before moving south to Baltimore, in Maryland, then the fourth largest city in America in 1831 to launch his own wholesale hardware business on South Charles Street in the heavily packed downtown business district, (between West Baltimore and Lombard Streets, near German Street - now West Redwood Street).
He became a capitalist and a friend of Scottish-born Andrew Carnegie, who later became a wealthy famous industrialist, businessman and philanthropist in his own right as head of Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh in the late 19th Century and later helped form the United States Steel Corporation, then the largest industrial firm in America, in 1900. He learned ironmaking as a trade. He arrived in Baltimore in 1831 with $150 in his pocket, and went on to make his fortune. His involvement in corporations include the founding of his firm, "E. Pratt & Brothers" of 23-25 South Charles St., Baltimore; and also at the Maryland Steamboat Company as a Director; the Susquehanna Canal Company (which opened the Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal)for 27 years; Vice-President of the old Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, which had its local terminal at the President Street Station (constructed 1849-50 at President Street and Canton Avenue [later Fleet Street], now the oldest surviving big-city railroad station left in the country), east of "The Basin" (today's "Inner Harbor"), where in April 1861, the "First Bloodshed of the Civil War" took place known as the historically famous "Baltimore Riot" or "Pratt Street Riot" of 1861, with the attack by Southern sympathizers upon the 6th Massachusetts Regiment and Philadelphia's "Washington Brigade" of Pennsylvania state militia when transferring between trains and proceeding by horse car to the Camden Street Station of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to head southwest to Washington to protect the National Capital against the building Confederate and Virginian state forces. He was a strong "Union Man" and supporter of the Union Club.
He was also a director for three other railroads. He was a contemporary and associate of philanthropist Thomas Kelso. They served together on the board of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad company.
In 1851, Pratt and his partner invested in western Maryland coal mines and iron yards in the Baltimore neighborhood of Canton. They made their own merchandise, thereby ending their dependence on northern manufacturers.
From 1860 until his death in 1896, he was the president of the National Farmers' and Planters' Bank of Baltimore. Pratt also became president of the Baltimore Clearing House and the Maryland Bankers' Association, in addition to establishing a role in several transportation companies.
Pratt and his wife had no children. Pratt gave much of his time and wealth to Baltimore’s cultural and charitable institutions. He served as a trustee of the Peabody Institute (founded in 1857 by fellow Massachusetts-born and Baltimore industrialist/financier George Peabody, [1795-1869] and dedicated before thousands of Baltimore City Public School children in 1866 as he stood on the front steps), as well as treasurer and chairman of its library committee. He founded the House of Reformation and Instruction for Colored Children at Cheltenham (in Prince George's County), and the Maryland School for the Deaf and Dumb at Frederick. In 1865, he donated a free school and public library to his hometown of North Middleborough in Massachusetts.
After taking his minister of his church (to which he was very faithful, active and generous), the First Independent Church of Baltimore (later renamed the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore (Unitarian and Universalist) which was an influential and historic congregation, founded in 1817.) for a carriage drive in the country roads around the outside of the city, he suddenly asked the man what he thought was the thing most needed to improve the lot of the people of the city, and after hearing several examples and replies; he exclaimed to the minister that it was a library that circulated books for the further education of the citizens. Then he proceeded to outline at a fast pace of conversation (that the minister never ever afterward forgot!) his ideas and plans to put his project into action. Soon he readied a letter to be sent to the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore proposing his gift and his suggestions for how it was to be governed, sites purchased and collections begun. After brief deliberation and debate, the offer was accepted by the city officials and agreed to the future level of annual support from the municipal coffers.
In secret, in January 1882, excavation and construction began and the curious passers-by wondered about an imposing white marble Victorian-style structure on Baltimore's West Mulberry Street just west of Cathedral Street. Opened four years later in 1886 as the Enoch Pratt Free Library, it endured, heavily used, with numerous annexes from neighboring townhouses until the 1920s. The main branch of the new Central Library of three floors and multiple basement levels is now located facing around the corner to the east on the entire block of Cathedral Street in downtown Baltimore, on the edge of the Cathedral Hill and Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood constructed by the City in 1931-33, which also provided badly needed work in the depths of the Great Depression. Additional renovations/expansions were done to the interior in the 1980s with an annex in the rear added in 2000s. After building a free central library and four branch libraries (two more were added a few years later), he granted the city $833,333.31 to assure that the library that he gave to the City would always be free to all citizens (regardless of color). Today twenty-two branches of the Library serve patrons throughout Baltimore, the metropolitan area and the State. EPFL also now serves as the State Library Resource Center with responsibilities, loans and services to all 23 counties of the State through modern telephone and internet connections. There are several oil painting portraits of Pratt located in the Central Library and several marble plaques describing his life and gifts.
Pratt, upon his death in 1896 at his summer residence "Tivoli", stipulated that his bequest be used to complete construction of the old Sheppard Asylum, enlarge the facility to house 200 additional patients, serve the indigent, and that the name of the institution be changed to The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. All of his conditions were met and The Moses Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital remains in operation today as the hospital component of the behavioral health provider, Sheppard-Pratt Health System.
His city townhouse/mansion located at West Monument Street and Park Avenue in the Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood, a few blocks west of the landmark Washington Monument and four park squares of Mount Vernon and Washington Places. It was occupied by his wife until her death and in 1919 became the new home of the Maryland Historical Society, founded 1844 after they moved from the old "Athenaeum" at the northwest corner of St. Paul Street/Place and East Saratoga Street (overlooking the newly developed "Preston Gardens" with terraces between St. Paul Street and old Courtland Street which were re-routed to become St. Paul Place, for the entire north-south group of five blocks from East Centre Street in the north to East Lexington Street, adjacent to the City Courthouse in the south). Over the decades a number of additional historic and newly-constructed buildings in the surrounding block at Monument and Park over to North Howard and West Centre Streets have been acquired for additional exhibitions, programs, lectures and events along with office and preservation workshops and storage spaces. Eventually these parcels of real estate were able to allow MdHS to return the mansion to an example of the living quarters it once was with historic Victorian-period furnishings after its earlier hard usage as the exhibition and working offices of the Society for over almost forty years to the mid 1960s.
The site of his counting house and offices at 23-25 South Charles Street (between East Baltimore and German (later Redwood) Streets was devastated during the Great Baltimore Fire of February 1904, and replaced by a number of large office buildings and department stores in that block. Additional re-development occurred in the early 1960s as new modernistic glass, steel and aluminum office towers and theatres were constructed as part of the Charles Center project.
He is buried at the Green Mount Cemetery off Greenmount and East North Avenues in northeast Baltimore, Maryland.
The Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Sheppard-Pratt Health System in Baltimore are named in his honor. (Pratt Street, established before Enoch Pratt moved to Baltimore, was not named after him. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pratt_Street.)
His name is also used for the Enoch Pratt Society, a group of especially interested, influential and wealthy individuals and patrons of the EPFL.
Famous steel industrialist and millionaire Andrew Carnegie, (1835-1919), said when he began his philanthropy of millions of dollars in the early 20th Century giving away his fortune especially to build public library buildings throughout the United States, said that "Pratt was my guide and inspiration" remembering the time of several days that he spent in Baltimore at Mr. Pratt's house touring the new Free Library and conversing with Mr. Pratt about their mutual ideas in the late 1880s.
- Johnson, Rossiter, and John Howard Brown (1904). "Section 5: Pratt". The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans 8. The Biographical Society.
- Browne, William Hand, and Louis Henry Dielman, ed. (1955). Maryland Historical Magazine 50. Maryland Historical Society. p. 327.
- American railroad journal - Volume 27, J.H. Schultz, 1854, pg. 62
- "Maryland Historical Trust". Tivoli, Baltimore City. Maryland Historical Trust. 2008-11-21.