Poor Construction Caused the Great Molasses Flood of 1919

February 2, 2018
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The Great Molasses Flood of Jan. 15, 1919 sent a 35-foot wave of molasses rolling down Commercial Street in Boston’s North End causing numerous deaths, massive destruction to property and the overhead train track rail that ran down the middle of the main street. It was reportedly the biggest disaster ever recorded in Boston at the time.

            So much molasses flowed down Commercial Street, first responders could not handle recovery from the 26 million pounds of molasses that filled the street. Cleanup efforts took 80,000-man hours.

            The destructive force claimed 21 lives and 150 people suffered injuries when a Purity Distilling Company storage tank busted open creating the destructive situation.

            Reportedly, the tank was built with poor material and was never really inspected. The incident caused the Legislature to change a number of construction codes in Massachusetts. The tank walls were both too thin and made of steel that was too brittle to withstand the volume of molasses.

            The tank was 50-feet tall, 90-feet wide and capable of holding 25 million gallons before it’s rivets popped and the steel side ripped open creating property damage estimated at 100 million in today’s dollars.

            Eventually the company was ruled responsible for the incident.