The Great Molasses Flood Of 1919

Feb 19, 2016 By Archit Tripathi

History is full of incredible tales. We're usually familiar with the big events like World Wars, major revolutions (France, U.S.A., Soviet, etc.), and other landmark moments, but history goes so much deeper than that. With the amount of people that have lived and died on this planet for the thousands of years that man has been here, there are so many incredible, unbelievable events that have happened in the past. 

America is home to a very rich and storied history itself. There's the Revolutionary War, the fascinating stories of the founding fathers, the Civil War, the Wild West, the entire Civil Rights Movement and so many other great moments and people that shaped not only this country, but the world. It's also the home of a lot of weird history. For instance, there's the oldest Santa school in the world, or how flour companies once made specially printed cotton flour sacks after finding out poor people used them to make clothing in lean times.

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919, which caused major damage and several deaths in Boston, is definitely one of the stranger things to have happened in this country. After a massive tanker of molasses collapsed, gallons upon gallons of sticky molasses flooded the streets of Boston, wrecking everything in its past. It was a major disaster, one that resulted in several deaths. Oddly enough though, it's one of those things that not very many people are aware of it (I certainly wasn't at least). Scroll down to see how Boston was nearly brought to its knees by molasses.

At around 12:40 in the afternoon of January 15, 1919, a tank of molasses exploded at the Purity Distilling Company in the North End of Boston. An estimated 2.3 million gallons of molasses proceeded to pour down into the streets of Boston at nearly 35 miles per hour.


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The tank was scheduled for transfer, but its quickly rising temperature set off a tragic chain of events that, at their peak, sent 25-foot waves of molasses barreling down upon the unsuspecting city.


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Witnesses reported a rumbling beneath their feet akin to an oncoming tornado or train, and the waves were so strong that a truck was swept up in them and washed into the Boston Harbor. They even nearly managed to tip a railroad car off of the city's elevated tracks.


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The Boston Post provides a gruesome description:


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The paper reads, "Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form - whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings - men and women - suffered likewise."

Many blocks were flooded up to three feet high, and the death toll was serious. The final count listed 21 dead and nearly 150 injured. People and animals were either crushed under the initial wave or drowned in the sticky, inescapable mess.


Boston Public Library

An article from The Smithsonian described the plight of one victim, Anthony di Stasio, who was "picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he was surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name but couldn't answer, his throat was so clogged from the smothering goo."


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The cleanup effort was unprecedented. Welders and torches were required to cut through the tank so that bodies could be searched for underneath. It required so much water pressure to clean up the mess that the city had to use its fireboats for the job, and the harbor itself stayed brown with molasses until summer.


Boston Public Library

Even the Army came in to help. A makeshift hospital was set up to help accommodate the surge of people coming in for medical treatment, while search parties roamed the city to look for more survivors.


Boston Public Library

The flood resulted in public outrage. A class-action lawsuit was brought against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company (U.S.I.A.C.), which had recently purchased the Purity Distilling Company. In the end, U.S.I.A.C. had to pay out $600,000 (roughly $10 million today) in settlements for negligence.


Boston Public Library

The incident was also immortalized in a children's book, “The Great Molasses Flood,” by Beth Wagner Brust. It follows a young girl named Maggie, who rushes to warn the city of the impending disaster.


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Via: Little Things

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