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History

Remembering Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919

BY Ethan Trex
January 15, 2018

Boston Public Library, Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Boston Public Library, Flickr , Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On January 15, 1919, Boston suffered one of history’s strangest disasters: a devastating flood of molasses. The “Great Molasses Flood” tore through the city’s North End and deposited so much gooey residue that locals claimed they could still smell the molasses on warm days decades later.

While most of us probably think of molasses as a tasty ingredient in treats like gingerbread, the sticky stuff has quite a few other uses. With a little know-how, one can turn molasses into rum or industrial alcohol fairly easily, and the Purity Distilling Company had built the gigantic tank in Boston’s North End in 1915 to supply its booze-making operations.

The steel tank was enormous: 50 feet tall, 90 feet across, and capable of holding 2.5 million gallons of molasses. (Although Prohibition kicked in with Nebraska’s ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment the very next day after the 1919 disaster, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, Purity Distilling’s parent company, still had a license to distill alcohol for industrial applications.)

By Unknown – Anthony Mitchell Sammarco. Boston’s North End. Arcadia Publishing, 2004, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The massive tank was nearly full on January 15, thanks to a recent infusion of 2.3 million gallons of molasses from Puerto Rico. Just after noon, something went horribly wrong. Witnesses later recalled hearing a noise like gunfire as the tank’s rivets popped and the steel sides ripped open. Suddenly, 26 million pounds of molasses were tearing down Commercial Street in a 15-foot wave.

A SHOCKINGLY DESTRUCTIVE FORCE

A giant wave of a sticky foodstuff sounds like something from a cartoon, but the surging molasses was a shockingly destructive force. The wave moved at upwards of 35 miles per hour, and the power was sufficient to rip buildings off of their foundations. The molasses snapped the support girders from an elevated train track and smashed multiple houses. The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities’s website claimed the property damage alone totaled around $100 million in today’s dollars.

The human cost of the disaster was even more grim. The wave of molasses moved so quickly and so forcefully that anyone who was unlucky enough to be in its way didn’t stand much of a chance. They were either knocked over and crushed or drowned in the goo. The flood claimed 21 lives, and another 150 people suffered injuries. Any flood would have been disastrous, but the viscous nature of molasses made rescue attempts even trickier. Medics and police officers arrived on the scene quickly but had to slog through waist-deep goo to reach victims.

Boston Post, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Even after the victims had been pulled from the muck, cleanup crews quickly learned that getting rid of 2 million gallons of molasses is no small task. In his book Dark Tide, Stephen Puleo wrote about one of the chief obstacles to the cleanup: firefighters couldn’t just use their hoses to blast the molasses off of buildings and streets with fresh water. Eventually they realized that saltwater would cut the hardened molasses and enable them to hose it down the streets into gutters. Thanks to all the foot traffic of rescue workers, cleanup crews, and rubberneckers, the sticky mess quickly moved around the city via people’s shoes. In all, the cleanup effort required over 80,000 man-hours.

THE BLAME GAME

How did this tragedy happen in the first place? The United States Industrial Alcohol Company was quick to blame everyone’s favorite early 20th-century scapegoats: anarchists. The company claimed that since its alcohol was an ingredient in government munitions, anarchists must have sabotaged the tank by detonating a bomb. Another theory explained that the molasses had fermented inside the tank, which led to an explosion.

Investigators soon found the real culprit, though: shoddy construction work. The company had been in such a hurry to get the tank built back in 1915 that it didn’t cut corners so much as it ignored the corners completely. Modern studies have found that the tank walls were both too thin and made of a steel that was too brittle to withstand the volume of molasses.

The man who oversaw the construction wasn’t an engineer or an architect; in fact, he couldn’t even read a blueprint. The tank needed to be an engineering marvel to hold all that weight, but the company never even consulted an engineer on the project. Basically, it threw up a gigantic tank as quickly and as cheaply as possible, skimped on inspections and safety tests, and hoped for the best.

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In light of these details, it’s amazing that the tank held together for four years. Nearby residents reported that the tank had leaked since its construction. Rather than fix the problem, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company had painted the tank brown so the leaks would be less noticeable.

The largely working-class North End residents who had lost their homes and loved ones in the disaster predictably turned their rage towards the United States Industrial Alcohol Company. USIA soon found itself named as the defendant in 125 lawsuits, which led to a legal battle that nearly matched the flood’s scale.

The Massachusetts Superior Court named Colonel Hugh Ogden as the auditor who would hear the evidence and report back on the cause of the disaster. It took Ogden nearly six years to hear testimony from 3,000 witnesses. When he finally penned his report, he concluded that there was no evidence to support the company’s theory of anarchist saboteurs. Instead, Ogden found that the “factor of safety” in the tank’s construction and inspection had been woefully low. USIA was liable for the damage and paid around $7,000 to the family of each victim.

The Great Molasses Flood still seems like a tragedy that could have been averted, but the disaster really drew attention to the potential repercussions of shaky construction. The case helped prompt Massachusetts and many other states to pass laws requiring that engineers and architects inspect and approve plans for major construction projects.

This story originally appeared in 2011.

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History

8 Inspiring Facts About Rosa Parks

BY Michele Debczak
November 30, 2018

Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Flickr

Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Flickr

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks solidified her place in the history books by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger—an arrestable offense in then-segregated Montgomery, Alabama. That quiet act of defiance helped kick-start the Civil Rights Movement and made Parks a household name. But it isn’t the only thing she should be remembered for. Here are some facts worth knowing about the icon.

1. She finished high school at a time when that was rare.

Though Rosa Parks enjoyed school , she dropped out at age 16 to take care of her dying grandmother. When she was 19 years old, Parks’s husband, Raymond , urged her to complete her high school education. She received her diploma in 1933, making her part of the mere 7 percent of African Americans at the time to earn the distinction.

2. She was active in politics.

Parks’s fight for equal rights for African Americans didn’t start with her fateful arrest. In 1943, she joined the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the NAACP and served as its secretary until 1956 . Part of her duties included traveling across the state and interviewing victims of discrimination and witnesses to lynchings. After moving from Alabama to Detroit, Parks worked as an assistant to U.S. Representative John Conyers, where she helped find housing for homeless people.

3. The bus driver who had her arrested in 1955 had given her trouble before.

Parks’s first conflict with James Blake , the bus driver who reported her to the police in 1955, came more than a decade earlier. In 1943, she boarded a bus driven by Blake and, after she paid her fare, he told her to exit and re-enter through the back doors—a rule for black riders using the segregated bus system. Instead of waiting for her to get back in, Blake drove away once Parks was off the bus. She avoided the driver for more than 10 years until one day she boarded his bus without paying attention. When she refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger, Blake was the one who called the police and had her arrested.

4. She helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.

Parks never planned to start a movement, but that’s what happened shortly after her arrest. Civil rights groups used her quiet protest as an opportunity to shine a national spotlight on unconstitutional segregation laws in the Deep South. The Montgomery bus boycott kicked off just days after her arrest, and less than a year later, the Supreme Court deemed the city’s segregated buses illegal . Parks’s arrest and the bus boycott are viewed by many historians as the inciting events of the movement that led to federal civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

5. She wasn’t the first black woman who refused to give up her seat.

Just nine months before Parks made history in Montgomery, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested in the same city for not moving from her bus seat for a white passenger. Colvin was the first person taken in custody for violating Montgomery’s bus segregation laws, but her actions were quickly overshadowed when Parks became the face of the Montgomery bus boycotts less than a year later.

6. She was arrested a second time.

Not long after her historic arrest in 1955, Parks got into trouble with the law again on February 22 , 1956. This time, she was arrested with close to 100 of her fellow protesters for breaking segregation laws during the Montgomery bus boycott. The famous photograph of Parks being fingerprinted by a police officer came from this second arrest, though it’s often mistakenly thought to show her first.

7. The founder of Little Caesars paid her rent for years.

After surviving a robbery and assault in her Detroit apartment in 1994, Parks was in need of a new place to live. Mike Ilitch , the founder of Little Caesars, heard of the plan and offered to cover her rent for as long as she needed it. He and his wife Marian ended up paying for Parks to live in a safer apartment until her death in 2005 at the age of 92.

8. She was the first woman lain in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Following her death in 2005, Parks was lain in state under the Capitol rotunda. The honor is reserved for the country’s most distinguished citizens—usually ones who have held public office. Parks remains the only woman and one of just four private citizens to receive the honor.

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The 40 Most Popular British Royal Baby Names of the Past 100 Years

BY Jennifer M Wood
November 30, 2018

Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For the average parents-to-be, choosing a moniker for your impending bundle of joy can be a source of much stress and strife. Pick too wild a baby name and your kid risks years of ridicule for being named after a trendy fruit. (Sorry, Avocado.) Opt for too popular a name and the child is likely to be one of 500 Jacksons (or Jaxons) in his graduating class. Now imagine the pressure to select just the right baby name is amplified by the fact that you’re a member of the British Royal family .

It’s a situation that Prince William and Kate Middleton know all too well. And now, as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—a.k.a. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle —await the birth of their first child, oddsmakers are already taking bets on both the soon-to-be royal baby ‘s gender and name. While they’ve still got a while to figure it out, as the Duchess isn’t due until the spring, Expedia decided to do some of the basic legwork for them and collate a list of the most popular British royal baby names of the past 100 years, going all the way back to Queen Victoria in 1819.

Speaking of Victoria: If Harry and Meghan’s child happens to be a girl, she’d be in great company with that name. In the past 100 years, there have been nine royal Victorias—enough to make it the most popular royal female name (though the last time a royal Victoria was christened was in 1897, so there’s something to be said for going the historic route).

On the male side, Albert wins the day with 12 royal Alberts (beginning with Queen Victoria’s husband). George—which just happens to be the name of William and Kate’s firstborn—comes in second with a total of 10 royal males having that handle.

Here’s a full list of the most popular names. For even more detailed information on Expedia’s research, click the family tree below.

Most Common Royal Male Names

1. Albert, 12 royals with this name
2. George, 10
3. Charles, 8
4. Edward, 7
5. Christian, 5
6. Frederick, 5
7. Louis, 5
8. Arthur, 5
9. William, 4
10. Henry, 4
11. Alexander, 4
12. John, 3
13. Philip, 3
14. Douglas, 2
15. Ernest, 2
16. Patrick, 2
17. Friederike, 2
18. Auguste, 2
19. Francis, 2
20. Andrew, 2
21. David, 2
22. Augustus, 2
23. Antony, 2

Most Common Royal Female Names

1. Victoria, 9 royals with this name
2. Mary, 7
3. Louise, 6
4. Alexandra, 6
5. Elizabeth, 5
6. Alice, 4
7. Margaret, 3
8. Charlotte, 3
9. Augusta, 2
10. Helena, 2
11. Maud, 2
12. Agnes, 2
13. Helene, 2
14. Caroline, 2
15. Olga, 2
16. Louisa, 2
17. Diana, 2

Royally Connected by Expedia.no

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History

Remembering Boston’s Great Molasses Flood of 1919

BY Ethan Trex
January 15, 2018

Boston Public Library, Flickr, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Boston Public Library, Flickr , Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On January 15, 1919, Boston suffered one of history’s strangest disasters: a devastating flood of molasses. The “Great Molasses Flood” tore through the city’s North End and deposited so much gooey residue that locals claimed they could still smell the molasses on warm days decades later.

While most of us probably think of molasses as a tasty ingredient in treats like gingerbread, the sticky stuff has quite a few other uses. With a little know-how, one can turn molasses into rum or industrial alcohol fairly easily, and the Purity Distilling Company had built the gigantic tank in Boston’s North End in 1915 to supply its booze-making operations.

The steel tank was enormous: 50 feet tall, 90 feet across, and capable of holding 2.5 million gallons of molasses. (Although Prohibition kicked in with Nebraska’s ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment the very next day after the 1919 disaster, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company, Purity Distilling’s parent company, still had a license to distill alcohol for industrial applications.)

By Unknown – Anthony Mitchell Sammarco. Boston’s North End. Arcadia Publishing, 2004, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The massive tank was nearly full on January 15, thanks to a recent infusion of 2.3 million gallons of molasses from Puerto Rico. Just after noon, something went horribly wrong. Witnesses later recalled hearing a noise like gunfire as the tank’s rivets popped and the steel sides ripped open. Suddenly, 26 million pounds of molasses were tearing down Commercial Street in a 15-foot wave.

A SHOCKINGLY DESTRUCTIVE FORCE

A giant wave of a sticky foodstuff sounds like something from a cartoon, but the surging molasses was a shockingly destructive force. The wave moved at upwards of 35 miles per hour, and the power was sufficient to rip buildings off of their foundations. The molasses snapped the support girders from an elevated train track and smashed multiple houses. The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities’s website claimed the property damage alone totaled around $100 million in today’s dollars.

The human cost of the disaster was even more grim. The wave of molasses moved so quickly and so forcefully that anyone who was unlucky enough to be in its way didn’t stand much of a chance. They were either knocked over and crushed or drowned in the goo. The flood claimed 21 lives, and another 150 people suffered injuries. Any flood would have been disastrous, but the viscous nature of molasses made rescue attempts even trickier. Medics and police officers arrived on the scene quickly but had to slog through waist-deep goo to reach victims.

Boston Post, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Even after the victims had been pulled from the muck, cleanup crews quickly learned that getting rid of 2 million gallons of molasses is no small task. In his book Dark Tide, Stephen Puleo wrote about one of the chief obstacles to the cleanup: firefighters couldn’t just use their hoses to blast the molasses off of buildings and streets with fresh water. Eventually they realized that saltwater would cut the hardened molasses and enable them to hose it down the streets into gutters. Thanks to all the foot traffic of rescue workers, cleanup crews, and rubberneckers, the sticky mess quickly moved around the city via people’s shoes. In all, the cleanup effort required over 80,000 man-hours.

THE BLAME GAME

How did this tragedy happen in the first place? The United States Industrial Alcohol Company was quick to blame everyone’s favorite early 20th-century scapegoats: anarchists. The company claimed that since its alcohol was an ingredient in government munitions, anarchists must have sabotaged the tank by detonating a bomb. Another theory explained that the molasses had fermented inside the tank, which led to an explosion.

Investigators soon found the real culprit, though: shoddy construction work. The company had been in such a hurry to get the tank built back in 1915 that it didn’t cut corners so much as it ignored the corners completely. Modern studies have found that the tank walls were both too thin and made of a steel that was too brittle to withstand the volume of molasses.

The man who oversaw the construction wasn’t an engineer or an architect; in fact, he couldn’t even read a blueprint. The tank needed to be an engineering marvel to hold all that weight, but the company never even consulted an engineer on the project. Basically, it threw up a gigantic tank as quickly and as cheaply as possible, skimped on inspections and safety tests, and hoped for the best.

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In light of these details, it’s amazing that the tank held together for four years. Nearby residents reported that the tank had leaked since its construction. Rather than fix the problem, the United States Industrial Alcohol Company had painted the tank brown so the leaks would be less noticeable.

The largely working-class North End residents who had lost their homes and loved ones in the disaster predictably turned their rage towards the United States Industrial Alcohol Company. USIA soon found itself named as the defendant in 125 lawsuits, which led to a legal battle that nearly matched the flood’s scale.

The Massachusetts Superior Court named Colonel Hugh Ogden as the auditor who would hear the evidence and report back on the cause of the disaster. It took Ogden nearly six years to hear testimony from 3,000 witnesses. When he finally penned his report, he concluded that there was no evidence to support the company’s theory of anarchist saboteurs. Instead, Ogden found that the “factor of safety” in the tank’s construction and inspection had been woefully low. USIA was liable for the damage and paid around $7,000 to the family of each victim.

The Great Molasses Flood still seems like a tragedy that could have been averted, but the disaster really drew attention to the potential repercussions of shaky construction. The case helped prompt Massachusetts and many other states to pass laws requiring that engineers and architects inspect and approve plans for major construction projects.

This story originally appeared in 2011.

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8 Inspiring Facts About Rosa Parks

BY Michele Debczak
November 30, 2018

Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Flickr

Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Flickr

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks solidified her place in the history books by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger—an arrestable offense in then-segregated Montgomery, Alabama. That quiet act of defiance helped kick-start the Civil Rights Movement and made Parks a household name. But it isn’t the only thing she should be remembered for. Here are some facts worth knowing about the icon.

1. She finished high school at a time when that was rare.

Though Rosa Parks enjoyed school , she dropped out at age 16 to take care of her dying grandmother. When she was 19 years old, Parks’s husband, Raymond , urged her to complete her high school education. She received her diploma in 1933, making her part of the mere 7 percent of African Americans at the time to earn the distinction.

2. She was active in politics.

Parks’s fight for equal rights for African Americans didn’t start with her fateful arrest. In 1943, she joined the Montgomery, Alabama chapter of the NAACP and served as its secretary until 1956 . Part of her duties included traveling across the state and interviewing victims of discrimination and witnesses to lynchings. After moving from Alabama to Detroit, Parks worked as an assistant to U.S. Representative John Conyers, where she helped find housing for homeless people.

3. The bus driver who had her arrested in 1955 had given her trouble before.

Parks’s first conflict with James Blake , the bus driver who reported her to the police in 1955, came more than a decade earlier. In 1943, she boarded a bus driven by Blake and, after she paid her fare, he told her to exit and re-enter through the back doors—a rule for black riders using the segregated bus system. Instead of waiting for her to get back in, Blake drove away once Parks was off the bus. She avoided the driver for more than 10 years until one day she boarded his bus without paying attention. When she refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger, Blake was the one who called the police and had her arrested.

4. She helped spark the Civil Rights Movement.

Parks never planned to start a movement, but that’s what happened shortly after her arrest. Civil rights groups used her quiet protest as an opportunity to shine a national spotlight on unconstitutional segregation laws in the Deep South. The Montgomery bus boycott kicked off just days after her arrest, and less than a year later, the Supreme Court deemed the city’s segregated buses illegal . Parks’s arrest and the bus boycott are viewed by many historians as the inciting events of the movement that led to federal civil rights legislation in the 1960s.

5. She wasn’t the first black woman who refused to give up her seat.

Just nine months before Parks made history in Montgomery, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin was arrested in the same city for not moving from her bus seat for a white passenger. Colvin was the first person taken in custody for violating Montgomery’s bus segregation laws, but her actions were quickly overshadowed when Parks became the face of the Montgomery bus boycotts less than a year later.

6. She was arrested a second time.

Not long after her historic arrest in 1955, Parks got into trouble with the law again on February 22 , 1956. This time, she was arrested with close to 100 of her fellow protesters for breaking segregation laws during the Montgomery bus boycott. The famous photograph of Parks being fingerprinted by a police officer came from this second arrest, though it’s often mistakenly thought to show her first.

7. The founder of Little Caesars paid her rent for years.

After surviving a robbery and assault in her Detroit apartment in 1994, Parks was in need of a new place to live. Mike Ilitch , the founder of Little Caesars, heard of the plan and offered to cover her rent for as long as she needed it. He and his wife Marian ended up paying for Parks to live in a safer apartment until her death in 2005 at the age of 92.

8. She was the first woman lain in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Following her death in 2005, Parks was lain in state under the Capitol rotunda. The honor is reserved for the country’s most distinguished citizens—usually ones who have held public office. Parks remains the only woman and one of just four private citizens to receive the honor.

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The 40 Most Popular British Royal Baby Names of the Past 100 Years

BY Jennifer M Wood
November 30, 2018

Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For the average parents-to-be, choosing a moniker for your impending bundle of joy can be a source of much stress and strife. Pick too wild a baby name and your kid risks years of ridicule for being named after a trendy fruit. (Sorry, Avocado.) Opt for too popular a name and the child is likely to be one of 500 Jacksons (or Jaxons) in his graduating class. Now imagine the pressure to select just the right baby name is amplified by the fact that you’re a member of the British Royal family .

It’s a situation that Prince William and Kate Middleton know all too well. And now, as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—a.k.a. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle —await the birth of their first child, oddsmakers are already taking bets on both the soon-to-be royal baby ‘s gender and name. While they’ve still got a while to figure it out, as the Duchess isn’t due until the spring, Expedia decided to do some of the basic legwork for them and collate a list of the most popular British royal baby names of the past 100 years, going all the way back to Queen Victoria in 1819.

Speaking of Victoria: If Harry and Meghan’s child happens to be a girl, she’d be in great company with that name. In the past 100 years, there have been nine royal Victorias—enough to make it the most popular royal female name (though the last time a royal Victoria was christened was in 1897, so there’s something to be said for going the historic route).

On the male side, Albert wins the day with 12 royal Alberts (beginning with Queen Victoria’s husband). George—which just happens to be the name of William and Kate’s firstborn—comes in second with a total of 10 royal males having that handle.

Here’s a full list of the most popular names. For even more detailed information on Expedia’s research, click the family tree below.

Most Common Royal Male Names

1. Albert, 12 royals with this name
2. George, 10
3. Charles, 8
4. Edward, 7
5. Christian, 5
6. Frederick, 5
7. Louis, 5
8. Arthur, 5
9. William, 4
10. Henry, 4
11. Alexander, 4
12. John, 3
13. Philip, 3
14. Douglas, 2
15. Ernest, 2
16. Patrick, 2
17. Friederike, 2
18. Auguste, 2
19. Francis, 2
20. Andrew, 2
21. David, 2
22. Augustus, 2
23. Antony, 2

Most Common Royal Female Names

1. Victoria, 9 royals with this name
2. Mary, 7
3. Louise, 6
4. Alexandra, 6
5. Elizabeth, 5
6. Alice, 4
7. Margaret, 3
8. Charlotte, 3
9. Augusta, 2
10. Helena, 2
11. Maud, 2
12. Agnes, 2
13. Helene, 2
14. Caroline, 2
15. Olga, 2
16. Louisa, 2
17. Diana, 2

Royally Connected by Expedia.no

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Great Molasses Flood

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Boston Molasses Disaster
BostonMolassesDisaster.jpg

Aftermath of the disaster
DateJanuary 15, 1919
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°22′06.6″N 71°03′21.0″W / 42.368500°N 71.055833°W / 42.368500; -71.055833 Coordinates : 42°22′06.6″N 71°03′21.0″W / 42.368500°N 71.055833°W / 42.368500; -71.055833
Cause Cylinder stress failure
Casualties
21 dead
150 injured

The Great Molasses Flood, also known as the Boston Molasses Disaster or the Great Boston Molasses Flood, occurred on January 15, 1919 in the North End neighborhood of Boston , Massachusetts . 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 entered local folklore and for decades afterwards residents claimed that on hot summer days the area still smelled of molasses. [1]

Contents

  • 1 Flood
  • 2 Aftermath
    • 2.1 Cleanup
    • 2.2 Fatalities
  • 3 Causes
  • 4 The area today
  • 5 Cultural influences
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References
  • 8 External links

Flood[ edit ]

Coverage from The Boston Post

The disaster occurred at the Purity Distilling Company facility on January 15, 1919. The temperature had risen above 40 °F (4 °C), climbing rapidly from the frigid temperatures of the preceding days. [2] :91, 95

Molasses can be fermented to produce rum and ethanol , the active ingredient in other alcoholic beverages and a key component in the manufacturing of munitions . [2] :11 The stored molasses was awaiting transfer to the Purity plant situated between Willow Street and what is now named Evereteze Way, in Cambridge .

Modern downtown Boston with molasses flood area circled

At about 12:30 in the afternoon near Keany Square, [3] at 529 Commercial Street, a 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 m3), collapsed. Witnesses variously reported that as it collapsed they felt the ground shake and heard a roar, a long rumble similar to the passing of an elevated train (coincidentally, with a line of that type close by), a tremendous crashing, a deep growling, or “a thunderclap-like bang!” [emphasis added], and as the rivets shot out of the tank, a machine gun -like sound. [2] :92–95

The collapse unleashed a wave of molasses 25 ft (8 m) high at its peak, [4] moving at 35 mph (56 km/h). [1] The molasses wave was of sufficient force to damage the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway ‘s Atlantic Avenue structure and tip a railroad car momentarily off the tracks. Author Stephen Puleo describes how nearby buildings were swept off their foundations and crushed. Several blocks were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 ft (60 to 90 cm). Puleo quotes a Boston Post report:

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. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was  … 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. [2] :98

Damage to the Boston Elevated Railway caused by the flood

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. A truck was picked up and hurled into Boston Harbor . About 150 people were injured; 21 people and several horses were killed. Some were crushed and drowned by the molasses. The wounded included people, horses, and dogs; coughing fits became one of the most common ailments after the initial blast. In a 1983 article for Smithsonian, Edwards Park wrote of one child’s experience:

Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn’t answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his four sisters staring at him. [1]

Aftermath[ edit ]

Detail of molasses flood area 1. Purity Distilling molasses tank 2. Firehouse 31 (heavy damage) 3. Paving department and police station 4. Purity offices (flattened) 5. Copps Hill Terrace 6. Boston Gas Light building (damaged) 7. Purity warehouse (mostly intact) 8. Residential area (site of flattened Clougherty house)

First to the scene were 116 cadets under the direction of Lieutenant Commander H. J. Copeland from USS Nantucket , a training ship of the Massachusetts Nautical School (which is now the Massachusetts Maritime Academy ), that was docked nearby at the playground pier. [3] They ran several blocks toward the accident. They worked to keep the curious from getting in the way of the rescuers, while others entered into the knee-deep, sticky mess to pull out the survivors. Soon, the Boston Police , Red Cross , Army , and other Navy personnel arrived. Some nurses from the Red Cross dove into the molasses, while others tended to the injured, keeping them warm and keeping the exhausted workers fed.[ citation needed ] Many of these people worked through the night. The injured were so numerous that doctors and surgeons set up a makeshift hospital in a nearby building. Rescuers found it difficult to make their way through the syrup to help the victims. Four days elapsed before they stopped searching for victims; many of the dead were so glazed over in molasses, they were hard to recognize. [1]

Local residents brought a class-action lawsuit , one of the first held in Massachusetts, against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA), 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 [2] :165 (because some of the alcohol produced was to be used in making munitions), a court-appointed auditor found USIA responsible after three years of hearings. United States Industrial Alcohol Company ultimately paid out $600,000 in out-of-court settlements ($6.5 million in 2017, adjusted for inflation). [5] Relatives of those killed reportedly received around $7,000 per victim. [1]

Cleanup[ edit ]

Cleanup crews used salt water from a fireboat to wash the molasses away, and used sand to try to absorb it. [6] The harbor was brown with molasses until summer. [7] The cleanup in the immediate area took “weeks”, [8] with more than 300 people contributing to the effort. [2] :132–134, 139 The cleanup in the rest of Greater Boston and its suburbs would take an indefinably longer time. Rescue workers, cleanup crews, and sight-seers had tracked molasses through the streets and spread it to subway platforms, to the seats inside trains and streetcars, to pay telephone handsets, into homes, [1] [2] :139 and to countless other places. “Everything a Bostonian touched was sticky.” [1]

Fatalities[ edit ]

NameAgeOccupation
Patrick Breen44Laborer (North End Paving Yard)
William Brogan61 Teamster
Bridget Clougherty65Homemaker
Stephen Clougherty34Unemployed
John Callahan43Paver (North End Paving Yard)
Maria Di Stasio10Child
William Duffy58Laborer (North End Paving Yard)
Peter Francis64 Blacksmith (North End Paving Yard)
Flaminio Gallerani37Driver
Pasquale Iantosca10Child
James H. KenneallyUnknownLaborer (North End Paving Yard)
Eric Laird17Teamster
George Layhe38Firefighter (Engine 31)
James Lennon64Teamster/Motorman
Ralph Martin21Driver
James McMullen46Foreman, Bay State Express
Cesar Nicolo32 Expressman
Thomas Noonan43 Longshoreman
Peter Shaughnessy18Teamster
John M. Seiberlich69Blacksmith (North End Paving Yard)
Michael Sinnott78Messenger

Sources: [2] :239 [3]

Causes[ edit ]

The molasses tank, date unknown

Several factors that occurred on that day and the previous days might have contributed to the disaster. The tank was constructed poorly and tested insufficiently. Due to fermentation occurring within the tank, carbon dioxide production might have raised the internal pressure. The rise in local temperatures that occurred over the previous day also would have assisted in building this pressure. Records show that the air temperature rose from 2 to 41 °F (−17 to 5.0 °C) over that period. The failure occurred from a manhole cover near the base of the tank, and a fatigue crack there possibly grew to the point of criticality. The hoop stress is greatest near the base of a filled cylindrical tank.

The tank had been filled to capacity only eight times since it was built a few years previously, putting the walls under an intermittent, cyclical load. Several authors say that the Purity Distilling Company was (or may have been) trying to outrace prohibition in the United States ; [9] [10] [11] the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States was ratified the next day (January 16, 1919), and took effect one year later. [12]

An inquiry after the disaster revealed that Arthur Jell, who oversaw the construction, neglected basic safety tests, such as filling the tank with water to check for leaks. When filled with molasses, the tank leaked so badly that it was painted brown to hide the leaks. Local residents collected leaked molasses for their homes. [5]

An investigation first published in 2014, applying modern engineering analysis, found that the steel was not only half as thick as it should have been for a tank of its size, even with the lax standards of the day, but it also lacked manganese and was made more brittle as a result. [13]

In 2016, a team of scientists and students at Harvard University conducted extensive studies of the historic disaster, gathering data from many sources, including 1919 newspaper articles, old maps, and weather reports. [14] The student researchers also studied the behavior of cold corn syrup flooding a scale model of the affected neighborhood. [15] The researchers concluded that the reports of the high speed of the flood were credible. [15]

Two days before the disaster, warmer molasses had been added to the tank, reducing the viscosity of the fluid. When the tank collapsed the fluid cooled quickly as it spread, until it reached Boston’s winter evening temperatures and the viscosity increased dramatically. [16] The Harvard study concluded that the molasses cooled and thickened quickly as it rushed through the streets, hampering efforts to free victims before they suffocated. [14] [15] The study results were presented at a November 2016 meeting of the American Physical Society . [15] [17]

The area today[ edit ]

Molasses Flood historical marker

United States Industrial Alcohol did not rebuild the tank. The property formerly occupied by the molasses tank and the North End Paving Company became a yard for the Boston Elevated Railway (predecessor to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority ). It currently is the site of a city-owned recreational complex, officially named Langone Park , featuring a Little League Baseball field, a playground, and bocce courts. [18] Immediately to the east is the larger Puopolo Park, with additional recreational facilities. [19]

A small plaque at the entrance to Puopolo Park, placed by the Bostonian Society, commemorates the disaster. [20] The plaque, titled “Boston Molasses Flood”, reads:

On January 15, 1919, a molasses tank at 529 Commercial Street exploded under pressure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of molasses buckled the elevated railroad tracks, crushed buildings and inundated the neighborhood. Structural defects in the tank combined with unseasonably warm temperatures contributed to the disaster.

Cultural influences[ edit ]

Many laws and regulations governing construction were changed as a direct result of the disaster, including requirements for oversight by a licensed architect and civil engineer . [21]

One of the DUKW amphibious tourist vehicles operated by Boston Duck Tours , appropriately painted dark brown, has been named Molly Molasses in remembrance of the event, per the firm’s practice of naming their DUKWs after famous Boston locations, events, and other bits of local culture. [22]

The Maine folk band Schooner Fare refers to the disaster in their song “Molasses”, from their 1985 album We The People. The lyrics mistake the number of fatalities, placing it at 26 instead of 21. [23]

See also[ edit ]

  • flag Boston portal
  • Honolulu molasses spill (September 2013)
  • London Beer Flood
  • Pepsi Fruit Juice Flood
  • 2018 Massachusetts gas explosions

References[ edit ]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Park, Edwards (November 1983). “Without Warning, Molasses in January Surged Over Boston” . Smithsonian. 14 (8): 213–230. Retrieved March 24, 2013.

    Reprinted at Eric Postpischil’s Domain, “Eric Postpischil’s Molasses Disaster Pages, Smithsonian Article”, June 14, 2009.

  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Puleo, Stephen (2004). Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Beacon Press. ISBN   0-8070-5021-0 .
  3. ^ a b c “12 Killed When Tank of Molasses Explodes” (PDF). The New York Times (published January 16, 1919). January 15, 1919. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved May 30, 2008.
  4. ^ Jabr, Ferris (July 17, 2013). “The Science of the Great Molasses Flood” . Scientific American . Retrieved October 16, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Adams, Cecil (December 31, 2004). “Was Boston once literally flooded with molasses?” . The Straight Dope. The Chicago Reader. Retrieved December 16, 2006.
  6. ^ “The Great Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919” . The Hour. United Press International. January 17, 1979.
  7. ^ “The Great Molasses Flood of 1919” . The History Channel. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  8. ^ Mason, John (January 1965). “The Molasses Disaster of January 15, 1919” . Yankee . Reprinted at Eric Postpischil’s Domain, “Eric Postpischil’s Molasses Disaster Pages, Yankee Magazine Article”, June 14, 2009. Retrieved June 8, 2014.
  9. ^ Puleo, Stephen (2010). Dark Tide: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 . Beacon Press. p. 79. Any disruption at the tank could prove disastrous to his plan to outrun Prohibition by producing alcohol as rapidly as possible at the East Cambridge distillery.
  10. ^ Stanley, Robert (1989). “Footnote to History”. Yankee. 53: 101. In January of 1919 Purity Distilling Company of Boston, maker of high-grade rum, was working three shifts a day in a vain attempt to outrun national Prohibition.
  11. ^ Silverman, Steve (2001). Einstein’s Refrigerator: And Other Stories from the Flip Side of History . Andrews McMeel. p. 37. ISBN   978-0-7407-1419-1 . First, it was believed that the tank was overfilled because of the impending threat of Prohibition.
  12. ^ Streissguth, Thomas (2009). The Roaring Twenties . Infobase. p. 13. ISBN   978-1-4381-0887-2 .
  13. ^ Schworm, Peter (January 15, 2015). “Nearly a century later, new insight into cause of Great Molasses Flood of 1919” . The Boston Globe . Retrieved January 16, 2015.
  14. ^ a b “Slow as molasses? Sweet but deadly 1919 disaster explained” . Boston.com. Associated Press. 24 November 2016. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
  15. ^ a b c d Mccann, Erin (26 November 2016). “Solving a Mystery Behind the Deadly ‘Tsunami of Molasses’ of 1919” . The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-12-03.
  16. ^ “Molasses Creates a Sticky Situation” . AlphaGalileo . November 17, 2016. Retrieved November 25, 2016.
  17. ^ Nicole Sharp, Jordan Kennedy, Shmuel Rubinstein (November 21, 2016). “Abstract: L27.00008 : In a sea of sticky molasses: The physics of the Boston Molasses Flood” . Bulletin of the American Physical Society. American Physical Society . Retrieved November 25, 2016.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter ( link )
  18. ^ Harris, Patricia; Lyon, David (2004). Boston: a Guide to Unique Places. The Globe Pequot Press. pp. 63–64. ISBN   0-7627-3011-0 .
  19. ^ “Places to go: Downtown/North End” . The Boston Harbor Association. Archived from the original on September 13, 2013. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  20. ^ Ocker, J.W. (2010). The New England Grimpendium. Woodstock, VT: The Countryman Press. p. 97. ISBN   978-0-88150-919-9 .
  21. ^ Durso, Fred. “NFPA Journal – The Great Boston Molasses Flood” . www.nfpa.org.
  22. ^ “Old Army trucks find a home — and triage” . Boston Globe, Billy Baker November 11, 2014
  23. ^ “We The People” . outergreen.com. Outer Green Records. Retrieved June 2, 2018.
  • Puleo, Stephen (2004). Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Boston: Beacon Press . ISBN   0-8070-5021-0 .

External links[ edit ]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Boston Molasses Disaster .
  • Boston Public Library . Photos related to the event on Flickr. Many phrases are direct quotes.
  • The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 , four-minute audio story at The American Storyteller Radio Journal
  • Interview with Stephen Puleo, author of the book listed in References section above
  • Molasses Flood of 1919
  • “Scenes in the Molasses-Flooded Streets of Boston” , from the Washington Times, January 18, 1919

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      Great Molasses Flood

      disaster, Boston, Massachusetts, United States [1919]
      Written By:

      • Amy Tikkanen
      See Article History

      Great Molasses Flood, disaster in Boston that occurred after a storage tank collapsed on January 15, 1919, sending more than two million gallons (eight million litres) of molasses flowing through the city’s North End. The deluge caused extensive damage and killed 21 people.

      The tank was built in 1915 along Boston’s waterfront on Commercial Street, opposite Copp’s Hill. It was operated by the Purity Distilling Company, a subsidiary of United States Industrial Alcohol (USIA). At the time, industrial alcohol —then made from fermented molasses—was highly profitable; it was used to make munitions and other weaponry for World War I (1914–18). The tank’s immense size reflected the demand: it measured more than 50 feet (15 metres) high and 90 feet (27 metres) in diameter and could hold up to 2.5 million gallons (9.5 million litres) of molasses. Built quickly, the tank was problematic from the start, leaking and often emitting rumbling noises. Nevertheless, it continued to be used, and after the war’s conclusion USIA focused on producing grain alcohol , which was in high demand as prohibition neared passage.

      At approximately 12:30 pm on January 15, 1919, the tank burst, releasing a deluge of “sweet, sticky death.” According to reports, the resulting wave of molasses was 15 to 40 feet (5 to 12 metres) high and some 160 feet (49 metres) wide. Traveling at approximately 35 miles (56 km) per hour, it destroyed several city blocks, leveling buildings and damaging automobiles. Although help arrived quickly, the hardening molasses made rescue efforts difficult. In the end, 21 people were killed, many of whom were suffocated by the syrup, and approximately 150 were injured. In addition, the Boston Post noted that a number of horses had “died like so many flies on sticky fly paper.” Clean-up efforts lasted for weeks, and Boston reportedly continued to smell like molasses for years afterward.

      Numerous lawsuits were filed in the wake of the disaster. While victims alleged that the tank was not safe, USIA claimed that it had been sabotaged by “evilly disposed persons.” In 1925, however, it was ruled that the tank was unsound, and USIA was ordered to pay damages. In addition, the disaster resulted in stricter construction codes being adopted by states across the country.

      For years, questions were raised over how such a seemingly benign substance could have caused so many deaths. In 2016, researchers released a study that placed the blame on cold temperatures. While warm weather would have caused the molasses to be less viscous, the winter temperatures made the syrup markedly thicker, severely impeding rescuers.

      Amy Tikkanen

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      Great Molasses Flood
      Disaster, Boston, Massachusetts, United States [1919]

      Great Molasses Flood

      date
      • January 15, 1919
      location
      • Boston
      • Massachusetts
      • United States
      related topics
      • Molasses
      • United States Industrial Alcohol



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      disaster, Boston, Massachusetts, United States [1919]
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