Monday, January 15, 2007

Yesterday In History

January 15th

Molasses floods Boston streets

Fiery hot molasses flooded the streets of Boston on this day in
1919, killing 21 people and injuring scores of others. The
molasses burst from a huge tank at the United States Industrial
Alcohol Company building in the heart of the city.

The United States Industrial Alcohol building was located on
Commercial Street near North End Park in Boston. It was close to
lunch time on January 15 and Boston was experiencing some
unseasonably warm weather as workers were loading freight-train
cars within the large building. Next to the workers was a
58-foot-high tank filled with 2.5 million gallons of crude

Suddenly, the bolts holding the bottom of the tank exploded,
shooting out like bullets, and the hot molasses rushed out. An
eight-foot-high wave of molasses swept away the freight cars and
caved in the building’s doors and windows. The few workers in
the building’s cellar had no chance as the liquid poured down
and overwhelmed them.

The huge quantity of molasses then flowed into the street
outside. It literally knocked over the local firehouse and then
pushed over the support beams for the elevated train line. The
hot and sticky substance then drowned and burned five workers at
the Public Works Department. In all, 21 people and dozens of
horses were killed in the flood. It took weeks to clean the
molasses from the streets of Boston.

This disaster also produced an epic court battle, as more than
100 lawsuits were filed against the United States Industrial
Alcohol Company. After a six-month investigation that involved
3,000 witnesses and 45,000 pages of testimony, a special auditor
finally determined that the company was at fault because the
tank used had not been strong enough to hold the molasses.
Nearly $1 million was paid in settlement of the claims.