The Boston Molasses Tsunami

Samuel Chase
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It was no laughing matter when a 90-foot wide cast iron tank holding more than 2.5 million gallons of molasses exploded January 15th, 1919 in Boston, Massachusetts. The explosion released a tsunami wave of molasses that ripped buildings from their foundations and swept away trucks in its path. Horses and people were drowned. In all, 21 people lost their life trying to escape the estimated 15 foot high wave of molasses.

Devastation from the Tsunami

The molasses belonged to the United States Industrial Alcohol Company who were using it to make rum. The tank was positioned 50 feet above street level at 529 Commercial Street in North Boston. The explosion released the contents within a few seconds. Investigation determined that the most likely cause of the explosion was a rapid overnight rise in temperature that caused the contents to expand rapidly and a hastily built tank insufficient to handle the stresses.

The tragedy resulted in the largest lawsuit the United States had ever seen up until that time. A special judge was appointed to hear the case. The testimony of 921 witnesses was heard over the next three years. It was more than a year after the last witness testified that the special judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company. The verdict was handed down on April 28, 1925.

Besides the 21 people killed, more than 150 were injured.

While the clean up only took a few weeks, for years afterwards, locals claimed you could smell the unmistakable odor of molasses on a hot day.

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