Unknown History from the Past– Molasses Tank Explosion

Unknown History from the Past– Molasses Tank Explosion

Thanks to Tammy Marion for sending this story..

The Great Molasses Flood, also known as the Boston Molasses Disaster or the Great Boston Molasses Flood, occurred on January 15, 1919, in the North End neighbourhood of Boston,

What a sweet story and quite true. They say on warm summer days you can still smell a scent of molasses in the air around the fire station!

Results were devastating.

“First you kind of laugh at it, then you read about it, and it was just horrible

A molasses wave 40 foot high poured out of the container killing 21 people. Imagine living in a basement apt and having this sweet sticky liquid pour it. It was like fly paper.

The Boston Globe
Boston, Massachusetts
16 Jan 1919, Thu  •  Page 1

A sea of more than 1,500,000 gallons of molasses, freed by the sudden explosion and col-lapse of a giant iron tank, sent a tidal wave of death and destruction-stalking through North End Park and Commercial st shortly after noon yesterday. Casualty lists furnished by the various hospitals total 11 dead and 50 Injured. Six wooden buildings were demolished, one heavy steel support of the elevated structure was knocked down and others were so weakened that they will have to be replaced. A score of Public Works Department horses were either smothered In their stalls by the flood of molasses or so severely Injured as their stable collapsed that they were shot by policemen to end their suffering. The giant molasses tank, having a capacity of 2,360,000 gallons, was located at 529 Commercial st, west of North End Park. It was the property of the Purity Distilling Company, a subsidiary of United States Industrial Alcohol Company. The tank and contents were valued in round figures at $250,000. It Is estimated the total property loss will not exceed $500,000

The molasses was distilled into industrial alcohol used to produce military explosives and the anarchy movement. The tank owners stated that anarchists blew up the tank. Then there was the fact that molasses was used in booze and prohibition was knocking at the door. Most of the residents of the North End were Italian, they were immigrants, and they were not citizens, so they had very little to say.

So this monstrous 2.3 million-gallon tank placed 3 feet from Commercial Street was erected without a whimper of protest, and no city official complained even after it started to leak from day one. The molasses flood did for building standards what the Coconut Grove fire did for fire codes as there were no regulations at the time. The molasses tank, which was 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter, didn’t even require a permit. After the judge ruled in favour of the plaintiffs, construction standards began to get stringent, first in Boston, then in Massachusetts, and finally across the country.


Buildings swept away West of the tank, were buildings occupied by the Bay State Railway Company. Between the giant tank and the water front is the house of . Engine 31, a fireboat of the Boston Fire Department, and next beyond that, on North End Park, is a recreation, or headhouse, on a small pier. East of the tank, and adjoining North End park, near Commercial St, were the buildings of the North End Paving Division of the Public Works Department of the city of Boston. These included a small office building, a stable and some sheds. All these buildings,, as well as the frame dwelling of Mrs Bridget Clougherty at 6 Copps Hill terrace, which is across Commercial st, were quickly destroyed.

There was no escape from the wave. Caught, human being and animal alike could not flee. Running in it was impossible. Snared in its flood was to be stifled. Once it smeared a head–human or animal–there was no coughing off the sticky mass. To attempt to wipe it with hands was to make it worse. Most of those who died, died from suffocation. It plugged nostrils almost air-tight.

During the four years it was in operation, workers reported hearing groaning noises every time the tank was filled with syrup, and it was well known that the structure was leaky, particularly to neighbourhood kids. Kids would collect and eat the molasses that oozed out of the tanks. The tank leaked constantly, worrying employees and neighbours. But in their rush to keep up with demand, company officials just repainted the tank in the same colour as the leaking molasses.

They said when metre readers went into the basements of those buildings across the street from the molasses company years later they could still smell molasses. Which makes perfect sense to me, because those basements were filled up to the first floor with molasses.

Almonte Explosion 1977

Mr. Code’s Mill Explosion in Carleton Place

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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