The 100th Anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood in Boston was on January 15, 2019
January 15th marked the 100th anniversary of Boston’s Great Molasses flood. On a cold winter’s day in 1919, just past noon, 2.3 million gallons of molasses escaped from a broken storage tank at a Molasses factory in the North End. Lasting no more than five minutes, the flood left death and destruction in its wake, as a wave of molasses, estimated by witnesses to be as high as 15 feet and traveling at approximately 35 miles per hour consumed everything in its wake.
In describing the scene, an article from the Boston Post, reprinted on the Boston Public Library’s website, described it as such
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.”
In the end, the flood killed 21 people, as well as injuring 150 more. Property in and around the area was completely destroyed, will the total cleanup taking approximately two weeks. According to the Boston Public Library’s article on the subject, crews had to use salt water in order to wash away the molasses as well as sand in order to absorb it. For those interested in learning more, please refer to the Boston Public Library’s article here.
The beginning of stricter construction codes and accountability
According to a Time magazine article on the flood, the resulting court case in which the U.S. Industrial Alcohol (USIA) corporation, owner of the Purity Distilling Company who operated the tanks, was forced to pay “… restitution amounting to about $15 million in today’s money” due to the structural weakness of the tanks used to hold the molasses. It was revealed during the ensuing lawsuit that the engineer who oversaw the construction of the North End tanks did not even know how to read blueprints, and that the tanks has subsequently been painted to match the color of molasses in order to hide the constant leaks in the tank.
As a result of these revelations and the tragedy which resulted from such negligence, Massachusetts instituted stricter construction codes, essentially creating the idea and requirement of “accountability in construction.”
The following photos from the Boston City Archives, provide a closer look of the level of destruction caused by the flood.