Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919
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Around noon on January 15, 1919, a group of firefighters was playing cards in Boston's North End when they heard a tremendous crash. It was like roaring surf, one of them said later. Like a runaway two-horse team smashing through a fence, said another. A third firefighter jumped up from his chair to look out a window-"Oh my God!" he shouted to the other men, "Run!"
A 50-foot-tall steel tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses had just collapsed on Boston's waterfront, disgorging its contents as a 15-foot-high wave of molasses that at its outset traveled at 35 miles an hour. It demolished wooden homes, even the brick fire station. The number of dead wasn't known for days. It would be years before a landmark court battle determined who was responsible for the disaster.
Mass., D.C. Heath & Company, 1987); and Charles Callan Tansill in America Goes to War (Gloucester, Mass., Peter Smith Publishers, 1938; reprinted by special arrangement by Little Brown, 1963). While all of these works touched on the production of arms and munitions, the most helpful summary and analysis of this specific topic was Colonel Leonard P. Ayres’ The War With Germany: A Statistical Summary (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1919). Prepared for the War Department, this work
and unprecedented levels. Like businesses across America, U.S. Industrial Alcohol stood ready to help. FOUR WAR AND ANARCHY Boston, April 1917 President Wilson’s request for a declaration of war against Germany fueled a patriotic fervor in Boston during the first week of April that sent thousands to the streets to cheer at huge rallies, or to gather on downtown corners to sing the National Anthem, eyes skyward, watching as enormous American flags were unfurled from the upper floors
were squeezing their way out, just like the molasses inside this tank, and he didn’t think there was any equivalent of caulking that could push them back in. Some workers on the Commercial Street wharf had whispered that U.S. Industrial Alcohol should scrap this tank and build a new one that didn’t leak. Urquhart thought the same about the economy; that the country would now have to scrap its reliance on war production and replace it with something new to accommodate all the working men without
jobs. Otherwise there could be trouble. He remembered the recession before the war. Men who worked with their hands had suffered the most, their families cold in the wintertime and hungry all year long. Today, the unions were stronger, workers resented the profits the big corporations were making, and soldiers and sailors returning from Europe would surely feel that their country owed them a living. Urquhart did not think that these people would tolerate hunger or cold or unemployment meekly or
back towards the water. Like eggshells it crushed the buildings of the North End yard of the city’s paving division … To the north it swirled and wiped out practically all of Boston’s only electric freight terminal. Big steel trolley freight cars were crushed as if eggshells, and their piled-up cargo of boxes and merchandise minced like so much sandwich meat. The swath of destruction caused by the molasses wave extended for hundreds of feet down Commercial Street. Note the smashed vehicle