A Bizarre Disaster: the Boston Molasses Flood

What happens when a steel holding tank, 50 feet high, 90 feet in diameter, and filled to the brim with 2.3 million gallons of molasses, explodes?

The city of Boston found out on January 15, 1919, suffering one of the strangest disasters in history. A wave of molasses 25 feet high roared down the surrounding streets at 35 mph. The steel tank turned into shrapnel; the rivets holding it together broke loose and flew like machine gun bullets. Twenty-five people were killed and 150 injured; and the property damage staggered the imagination.

Why did this happen? Poor construction, inadequate testing, and rather than address the leaks reported in the tank from the beginning, its owners painted it brown so that the leaking molasses wouldn’t show. There was also the effect of impending legislation which we now call Prohibition: molasses was used in the production of various alcoholic beverages, and the owners were trying to secure their bottom line before Congress put them out of business: so they cut corners.

All sorts of regulations and safeguards have been added since then. But bridges still collapse, buildings still fail, houses still vanish into sinkholes. We are highly unlikely ever to see another molasses flood–but who knows?

For we are sinners, we break our own laws as well as God’s, we will always be prone to rush things through without taking care of all the details–and we are highly resistant to acquiring the virtue of humility.

History is full of warnings. He that has ears, let him hear.

2 comments on “A Bizarre Disaster: the Boston Molasses Flood

  1. Holy Molasses, Batman, let’s make some cookies. When I hear reports of how much in need the infrastructure of America is, it seems disasters are just waiting to happen.

Leave a Reply