Sunday, December 11, 2011
THE BLACKSTRAP TSUNAMI
In 1915 THE UNITED STATES ALCOHOL COMPANY, in Boston, completed construction on an enormous above ground storage tank. Its steel sides were curved and it had bottom plates set into a concrete base that were attached together with rivets.
It was built to hold molasses….the key ingredient in rum, Boston Baked Beans, and, when distilled into industrial alcohol, an ingredient for World War I munitions and explosives.
The tank stood along the Boston Harbor, next to the city’s most densely populated neighborhood, the steel structure stood 50 feet tall, was 90 feet in diameter, and it would hold more than 2.3 million gallons of molasses.
On Wednesday, January 15, 1919, at around half-past noon it was unusually warm, in the mid-40s…it had only been two degrees above zero just three days before.
At about 12:40 p.m. the enormous tank ruptured ….A blast of air from the explosion blew people away and then, seconds later, produced a counterblast that rushed in to fill the vacuum sucking them back in
People and buildings within hundreds of feet were pierced by flying pieces of metal. A giant chunk of the vat landed in a park that was 200 feet away and witnesses reported a three story house soaring through the air.
A huge stone pillar that supported an elevated railroad was hit by another flying chunk of metal. Part of the tracks collapsed. The driver managed to stop the train just before it would have plunged over the edge.
But…the very worst, was that the tank emptied the entire 2.3 million gallons of molasses onto Commercial Street within seconds.
Flowing at 35 miles per hour, a "wall of molasses" roared through the streets. It tore buildings from their foundations. Vehicles and horses were buried.
While trying to outrun the rush of the molasses, men, women, children, and animals were hurled against solid objects and drowned where they fell amongst crushed freight cars, autos, and wagons, wood, and steel.
More than 150 people were injured and 21 were killed.
The flood of molasses engulfed the Boston waterfront like a tsunami. It was 16 feet high and 160 feet wide at the outset. … it destroyed the entire waterfront and a half-mile of Commercial Street.
The flow of the wall of molasses pushed in all directions developing four separate walls smashing across the wharf and into the street.
When the tank exploded it became a source of deadly shrapnel…… thousands of rivets turned into bullets which contributed to the utter destruction of the area.
Within an eye blink the Boston North End inner harbor area looked like the aftermath of a massive bombing.
Rescuers, slogging through the knee deep river of goo had their boots sucked off …it was impossible to move.
Horses that had become trapped had to be shot because there was no way to get them out.
The molasses filled all the cellars and hydraulic siphons were in operation for months to pump it out.
The cobblestone streets, homes, and other buildings had to be continuously sprayed with salt water because fresh water just slid off the glop. The streets were covered with sand.
All the rescue workers, cleanup crews, and sightseers managed to spread the molasses all over the city. Boots and clothing carried it to the suburbs.
Molasses coated streetcar seats and public telephones. Everything Bostonians touched was sticky For months afterwards, wherever people walked, their shoes stuck to the streets and walks
The clean-up took over 87,000 man-hours. . Once that was done, the filing of lawsuits began. Hearings went on for six years.
When they were brought to court THE UNITED ALCOHOL COMPANY claimed no responsibility. They accused anarchists of blowing up the molasses tank.
No evidence of sabotage was ever discovered. The court eventually ruled for the plaintiffs, finding that the tank had been overfilled and inadequately reinforced.
The enormous tank, 50 feet high and 90 feet in diameter, had been poorly designed and insufficiently tested. Right from the beginning it leaked. Local residents collected leaked molasses for their homes. Company officials reacted to the constant leaks by repainting the tank brown to match the leaking molasses.
Because, on the day of the explosion, the weather was 40 degrees while on the day before it was 2 degrees, it is believed that the sudden increase in temperature caused the molasses to expand and the tank to explode.
The company was made to pay out nearly a million dollars in damages
When investigators looked for the plans that were filed when the tank was built 4 years earlier…..they couldn't find any. The building inspectors stated that “ building plans were not required because the vat was not a building but an industrial device.”
The tank was built with no plans approved and no government inspectors involved.
Shortly after the flood, the Boston Building Department began requiring that all calculations of engineers and architects be filed with their plans. Stamped drawings were required to be signed.
The Boston Molasses Flood triggered the adoption of engineering certification laws in all states, as well as the requirement, that all plans for major structures. be sealed by a registered professional engineer in order to be issued a permit by a municipality or state.
The nation added needed regulations for major structures (not all regulations are bad) and saw the historical trade in molasses decline.
"The flood essentially ended three hundred years' worth of high-volume molasses trade in Boston and New England. While some molasses distilling took place in the city up until World War II, the industry never resumed its level of importance
Molasses, which had played such a key role in the American Revolution, the slave trade, the rum business and in munitions production, slowly disappeared as a staple product in America and as a critical part of the New England economy”
……….Stephen Puleo: Dark Tide: the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919
It has been over 90 years since THE GREAT FLOOD and yet even today Bostonians claim that, when strolling down Commercial Street on a hot day, one can still catch the faint scent of molasses in the air.