Guest Author - Vance Rowe
January 15, 1919 was the date for one of the weirdest disasters to ever occur in the United States. It was the date of the Great Boston Molasses Disaster. That's right, a molasses disaster.
A storage tank at Boston's waterfront burst at the seams, sending a wave of sticky liquid rushing through the north end of the city. The literal ocean of molasses was 15 feet high and 160 feet wide and rushed through the north end at a speed of 35 miles per hour, wiping out everything it came in contact with. Buildings were pushed off of foundations, people drowned and an elevated train was nearly knocked off of its tracks when the wave of molasses broke some steel girders that were holding the tracks up. The molasses also took down power line poles. Rivets holding the tank together shot through neighborhoods like a hail of machine gun bullets.
The tank was 50 feet high and 90 feet in diameter; as tall as a five story building. It belonged to Purity's parent company, United States Industrial Alcohol (USIA). the tank was only three years old at the time. The company was blamed for the disaster because it failed to test the tank with seawater to make sure it was structurally sound because there was a shipment of molasses due just days after the storage tank was due to be completed. The storage tank cost USIA thirty thousand dollars to build and was in a perfect location for the company. It was located 200 feet from the harbor and close to ships that brought the molasses in and close to trains that would take the molasses from the facility.
This storage tank actually seemed doomed right from the beginning, but no one thought that a disaster like this would happen. Molasses began leaking from the tank almost right away. People would bring containers to the tank and fill them from the leaks for home use and children would let the molasses leak onto sticks so they could have molasses lollipops. However, neighbors and workers for the company said they had heard sinister grumblings within the tank.
On this fateful day in January, the tank was holding 2.3 million gallons of molasses which weighed about 26 million pounds, almost one and half times the weight of seawater. It was lunch time for the workers when the tank burst. Buildings in the Northend Paving Yard were completely destroyed immediately. Engine 31 Fire House, a three story building was torn from its foundation and three firemen were trapped inside and tried to keep their heads above the rising wave of molasses. A piece of the tank was hurtled against the elevated train track structure. The wave broke girders supporting the elevated tracks and almost knocking the north bound train from its tracks.
When it was all said and done, 21 people were killed and 150 were injured. The damages, in today's money, was over 100 million dollars. Today, the site of the tank is now a public park and there is a plaque at the entrance to the park, stating what this site used to be. Bostonians swear that they can still smell a hint of molasses in the area on warm summer days