Curious History : The Boston Molasses Disaster

How about we start this particular posting off with…once upon a time…

…there was a very large molasses tank which was owned by the United States Industrial Alcohol Company filled with over 2.3 million gallons of crude molasses that was to be processed into rum hovering fifty feet above the streets of Boston.  But, alas, no rum would be made from this particular batch.  On the 19th of January in 1919, during a curiously warm early afternoon, no one could have guessed on the unique tragedy that would occur.  After a sudden increase in temperature (from the icy 2 degrees above 0 to almost 40 degrees on this particular day) this immense steel structure containing this specific batch of molasses burst in a frightening, and rather curious explosion!

The next part sounds like a scene from a horror movie! Chunks of metal flew everywhere, piercing into people and buildings for hundreds of feet around.  The shock wave knocked people down…then the reverse shock wave from the explosion thrashed everyone around a little more!  Over two million tons of sticky, sweet syrupy gloop rushed down Commercial Street taking the unexpected citizens of Boston by surprise!  One huge piece knocked out the support of an elevated railway, buckling the tracks.

“Fragments of the great tank were thrown into the air, buildings in the neighborhood began to crumple up as though the underpinnings had been pulled away from under them, and scores of people in the various buildings were buried in the ruins, some dead and others badly injured.

The explosion came without the slightest warning. The workmen were at their noontime meal, some eating in the building or just outside, and many of the men in the Department of Public Works Buildings and stables, which are close by, and where many were injured badly, were away at lunch.

Once the low, rumbling sound was heard no one had a chance to escape. The buildings seemed to cringe up as though they were made of pasteboard.”

It was an avalanche of death!  A looming wall of molasses, starting at over 30 feet high, uprooted houses and tacked people to the street.  Horses that got stuck in the stuff had to be shot. It swept them around and just like rip tide…it sucked them down to drown a rather curiously sticky death!  By the end of the day, the death toll was at 21, numerous horses, and over 150 were injured!

The curious black sticky stuff filled basements for blocks around and it took several months for the hydraulic syphons to pump it out. Salt water had to be sprayed on cobblestone streets, homes, and other buildings because fresh water couldn’t wash it off.  I can imagine it either smelling like salt water taffy…or a fish covered in maple syrup!  For months afterwards, wherever people walked, their shoes stuck to the goo. Some people even claimed that on a hot day one could still smell molasses even after several years!

The verdict?  The USIAC claimed no responsibility and demanded that the explosion was caused by anarchists (this was done during The Great War).  After over 6 years, all lawsuits were settled upon with $1 million, an equivalent of $12 million today!

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