Monday, August 19, 2013

A Tidal Wave of Molasses

Image Source: Wikipedia

Albeit that this happened almost a century ago, it still seems unreal and serves as fantastic example of the potential for enormous disaster, when contractors take short cuts. 
In 1918 a contractor named Aurthur Jell built a molasses storage tank in the North End of Boston. He never bothered to check his tank for leaks leaving the locals to try and plug the many cracks that appeared.

As more leaks appeared, the sight of molasses oozing from the cracks should have served as a warning of the disaster to follow. Perhaps not realising the gravity of it, there answer was to hide the cracks by painting the tank a molasses shade of brown.

January of 1919 was unseasonably warm. As the fermentation process in the tank continued to produce carbon monoxide, the pressure inside continued to build, causing the cracks within the tank to expand. Eventually the rivets shot out of the structure, unleashing a 15-foot tall tidal wave that covered Boston.

The wave travelled through the city at 35 miles an hour, lifting a train off the tracks and crushing buildings in its sweet, sticky fury. The hot air released from the tanks also created a blast wave that reportedly threw vehicles off the road.

The military, police and the Red Cross joined in on the rescue effort, and the final toll would be 21 deaths, countless injuries and 87,000 man hours of the nastiest cleanup outside of an oil tanker spill.

The owners of the tank tried to pin the explosion on anarchists but in the end they were found liable and were forced to pay damages. The tank was never rebuilt, but to this day some Boston residents claim you can still smell the molasses on hot summer days.

Information Source: article By Ben Dennison on

Ernest Roper
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