The great Boston molasses flood

Well, I missed posting about this on the anniversary, but let’s look back in time as if I posted it on the proper day and remember The Boston Molasses Disaster in all its glor0y (additional sources at CNN and Damn Interesting). On January 15th, 1919, a massive silo, filled with approximately 2.3 million gallons of molasses exploded, releasing a 15+ foot tall tidal wave of molasses which spread at over 30 miles per hour. Keep that in mind when you label something as slow as molasses in January.

boston-molasses-disaster.jpg The collapse unleashed an immense wave of molasses between 8 and 15 ft (2.5 to 4.5 m) high, moving at 35 mph (56 kph) and exerting a pressure of 2 ton/ft² (200 kPa).[3] The molasses wave was of sufficient force to break the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway’s Atlantic Avenue structure and lift a train off the tracks. Nearby, buildings were swept off their foundations and crushed. Several blocks were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 feet.

. . .

The Boston Globe reported that people “were picked up by a rush of air and hurled many feet” Others had debris hurled at them from the rush of sweet smelling air and a truck was picked up and hurled into Boston Harbor. On that day more than 159 were injured and 21 people and several horses were killed as the molasses crushed and asphyxiated some. After the initial blast the molasses choking the wounded people, horses and dogs became one of the biggest problems.

. . .

It took 133 man-months to remove the molasses from the cobblestone streets, theaters, businesses, automobiles, and homes. The harbor ran brown until summer. Local residents brought a class-action lawsuit, one of the first held in Massachusetts, against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, which had bought Purity Distilling in 1917. In spite of the company’s attempts to claim that the tank had been blown up by anarchists (because some of the alcohol produced was to be used in making munitions) it ultimately paid out $600,000 in out-of-court settlements (at least $6.6 million in 2005 dollars).

That’s a lot of sweet and gooey liquid, and quite the mess, it seems. The exact cause of the disaster is unknown, but fermentation of the molasses as well as the almost 40 degree temperature increase from January 18th are listed as likely culprits.

[tags]The great Boston molasses flood, Waves of sugary goodness[/tags]