Boston Molasses Disaster

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The Boston Molasses Disaster, also known as the Great Molasses Flood and the Great Boston Molasses Tragedy, occurred on January 15, 1919, in the North End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts in the United States. A large molasses storage tank burst, and a wave of molasses rushed through the streets at an estimated 35 mph (56 km/h), killing 21 and injuring 150. The event has entered local folklore, and residents claim that on hot summer days, the area still smells of molasses.[1]

Contents

Disaster

The disaster occurred at the Purity Distilling Company facility on January 15, 1919, an unusually warm day for January (40˚ F, 4.4˚ C). At the time, molasses was the standard sweetener in the United States. Molasses can also be fermented to produce rum and ethyl alcohol, the active ingredient in other alcoholic beverages and a key component in the manufacturing of munitions at the time.[2] The stored molasses was awaiting transfer to the Purity plant situated between Willow Street and what is now named Evereteze Way, in Cambridge.

Near Keany Square,[3] at 529 Commercial Street, a huge molasses tank 50 ft (15 m) tall, 90 ft (27 m) in diameter and containing as much as 2,300,000 US gal (8,700,000 L) collapsed. Witnesses stated that as it collapsed, there was a loud rumbling sound, like a machine gun as the rivets shot out of the tank, and that the ground shook as if a train were passing by.[4]

The collapse unleashed an immense wave of molasses between 8 and 15 ft (2.5 and 4.5 m) high, moving at 35 mph (56 km/h), and exerting a pressure of 2 ton/ft² (200 kPa).[5] 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 (60 to 90 cm). As described by author Stephen Puleo:

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