4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

The Great Boston Molasses Flood

Matt:

Did you ever hear of the Great Boston Molasses Flood, sometime back in the 1920s? Lots of people drowned in a nasty, sticky, slow death. Details, please.

-- Tim, not in Boston

Just my kind of disaster. Big, messy, weird, and very far away. It happened the day before the Prohibition amendment was ratified, January 15, 1919. Ironically, the molasses belonged to the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Company. Between the rum and the baked bean factories, molasses was always a hot commodity in Boston. USIA's storage tank, a 2-1/2-million-gallon behemoth made of riveted steel set in concrete, was 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. Topped off, the contents weighed 14,000 tons. About noon, newspaper accounts say, there was a huge roar, the rivets shot out, and a 15-foot wall of liberated molasses made a beeline for downtown. (A "beeline" for molasses in Boston in January is estimated to be about 35 miles per hour.) When the stuff finally gurgled to a stop, the resulting blob covered several square blocks three feet deep. It had flattened workmen's shacks, shoved houses off their foundations, smothered 21 people, and injured 150 more.

The flood was one thing. The cleanup was something else entirely. Mostly they used harbor water pumped by fireboats, then covered the residue with sand. Anyone who came in contact with the stuff spread it around the city on their hands, clothes, and shoes. The greater Boston area was reportedly one big piece of flypaper for months as people spread the stickiness into the suburbs. The smell lasted for years.

In the ensuing court case, explanations for the explosion ranged from Bolshevik bombs to fermentation. The judge ultimately blamed the company for shoddy maintenance. A few years ago, there was a similar molasses disaster in Nebraska, this time a million-gallon tank. The goo never made it off the company's property, though. It knocked down a couple of small buildings and glued three or four people to their workstations for a while. We must be making progress in molasses-safety technology.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

College-Rolando Library could end up with no parking

Friendly deal with College Lutheran now in hands of Blue Falcon
Next Article

International Smoke and a $29 lunch

Giving in to celebrity chef culture and hoping the bang’s worth the buck

Matt:

Did you ever hear of the Great Boston Molasses Flood, sometime back in the 1920s? Lots of people drowned in a nasty, sticky, slow death. Details, please.

-- Tim, not in Boston

Just my kind of disaster. Big, messy, weird, and very far away. It happened the day before the Prohibition amendment was ratified, January 15, 1919. Ironically, the molasses belonged to the U.S. Industrial Alcohol Company. Between the rum and the baked bean factories, molasses was always a hot commodity in Boston. USIA's storage tank, a 2-1/2-million-gallon behemoth made of riveted steel set in concrete, was 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. Topped off, the contents weighed 14,000 tons. About noon, newspaper accounts say, there was a huge roar, the rivets shot out, and a 15-foot wall of liberated molasses made a beeline for downtown. (A "beeline" for molasses in Boston in January is estimated to be about 35 miles per hour.) When the stuff finally gurgled to a stop, the resulting blob covered several square blocks three feet deep. It had flattened workmen's shacks, shoved houses off their foundations, smothered 21 people, and injured 150 more.

The flood was one thing. The cleanup was something else entirely. Mostly they used harbor water pumped by fireboats, then covered the residue with sand. Anyone who came in contact with the stuff spread it around the city on their hands, clothes, and shoes. The greater Boston area was reportedly one big piece of flypaper for months as people spread the stickiness into the suburbs. The smell lasted for years.

In the ensuing court case, explanations for the explosion ranged from Bolshevik bombs to fermentation. The judge ultimately blamed the company for shoddy maintenance. A few years ago, there was a similar molasses disaster in Nebraska, this time a million-gallon tank. The goo never made it off the company's property, though. It knocked down a couple of small buildings and glued three or four people to their workstations for a while. We must be making progress in molasses-safety technology.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Dahmer's Diner, Nico, Deadheads, Paul Williams

Goth rock, Moby Grape on the street, Elvis in 1977, Stone Temple fracas, Charles McPherson, flamenco insiders
Next Article

Santa Anas come in from high-pressure area over Nevada or Utah

Go to Cuyamaca or Palomar to get relief
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close