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Learn About the Molasses Flood That Devastated Boston in 1919

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Boston has been home to many historic events, but some overshadow others. And this one perhaps tops the category of weirdest disaster…

On July 15, 1919, Boston was hit with an oft-overlooked event of mass destruction: Molasses flooded the city’s streets and left a path of wreckage in its way.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

How, you ask? That’s a great question.

At the time, Boston was home to a company called Purity Distilling Company. The company built a monumental tank in 1915 to process molasses that could later be used to distill alcohol.

Molasses is used for both commercial and potable alcohol (it’s safe as long as it’s done properly), and this was a major source of revenue for Purity Distilling.

The tank had a capacity of 2.5 million gallons, and it was nearly full on the morning of the incident. Witnesses later mentioned that they heard noises comparable to gunshots as the tank’s steel sides and rivets collapsed. Then, suddenly, a 15-foot wave consisting of 26 million pounds of molasses spewed from the side of the tank, slowly causing calamity all over the city.

21 people perished, and approximately 150 people were injured. Emergency responders and police did what they could to help those who were trapped, but molasses is extremely sticky, complicating their efforts.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

After helping those affected, the city also had to deal with cleaning up after millions of gallons of molasses.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Later it was revealed that the accident occurred because the company never involved a qualified engineer with the construction of their molasses-holding tank. The state of Massachusetts took action, passing stricter legislation overseeing construction to prevent similar accidents in the future.

Truly, trapped in a wave of molasses is a horrifying way to die…