NWDFloodsWhat Caused the Great Boston Molasses Flood and What Were the Consequences

What Caused the Great Boston Molasses Flood and What Were the Consequences

the great boston molasses flood of 1919

What Is the Great Molasses Flood?

After a disastrous breakdown at the Purity Distilling Company, the Boston molasses disaster stunned the city’s residents when an 8-meter tsunami surged across the streets. On that day, 21 people perished and another 150 were injured.

Low safety regulations and practices, as well as negligence by both workers and supervisors, were to blame, just as they were in the case of the London beer flood.

What Is Molasses?

Molasses is a thick, viscous liquid made by turning sugar cane or sugar beet into sugar. Molasses is a natural sweetener that may be used in a wide range of cuisines. It’s in barbecue sauce and brown sugar.

It’s created by harvesting sugar cane and then cutting or chopping it to extract the juice. Afterwards, the juice is boiled to concentrate it and aid in the crystallization of the sugar. It is then cooked twice more until it becomes a thick, sweet, dark syrup.

When Was the Great Molasses Flood, Where and Why?

the boston molasses disaster

The company, located at 529 Commercial Street in Boston’s North End, was called The Purity Distilling Company. In 1919, this company carried on its normal business. It specialized in the production of ethanol by fermenting molasses. This facility, near the harbor, was used to store and unload molasses from ships, then store it until it was ready to be moved to other Purity plants via pipelines. The molasses reservoir in question measured 15 meters (50 feet) in height and 27 meters (90 feet) in circumference, with a capacity of 8.7 million liters (2.3 million US gallons).

The temperature increased several degrees above average on the morning of January 15th, reaching four degrees Celsius (40 Fahrenheit). A ship had just unloaded molasses at the facility, which had been held at a much higher temperature due to its decreased viscosity at higher temperatures, making transportation easier.

The low outside temperature meant that the old molasses tanks in the plant were much colder before the new molasses were loaded. After pouring in new molasses, two different temperatures will ultimately lead to disaster.

Scientists who dealt with the situation associated with the Boston molasses tank failure in 1919 concluded that thermal expansion was the cause of the tragedy. When a liquid changes temperature, it expands in area, density, shape, and volume, especially if the change is rapid. The molasses tank collapsed around 12:30 as it was almost full and the temperature change was unable to keep the molasses inside the tank.

What Happened Next?

Molasses has more potential energy, which means that it stores a lot more energy in the substance itself, since this liquid has a 40% higher density than water. The collapse triggered an 8-meter wave that hit the streets of Boston at 56 km / h (35 mph). The force of this wave was so strong that it hit the steel panels against the Boston Overpass construction, causing the tram to topple off the tracks. It didn’t stop there; surrounding structures were demolished, and various blocks were inundated to a depth of 60 to 90 centimeters (2 to 3 feet).

People were swept off their feet, bricks and metal objects were thrown at some. An entire truck was also swept away and thrown into Boston Harbor. As the frigid temperatures made molasses more viscous and thicker, it became more difficult for individuals to move and swim in it, resulting in multiple deaths. People were killed by the molasses, and so were the horses.

Aftermath Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919

great molasses flood of 1919

Initially, 116 cadets from the aircraft carrier “Nantucket” were stationed at the dock near the Boston Great Molasses Flood, assisting individuals in need. They rushed all around the North End, knee-deep in molasses, assisting anyone who required assistance. Red Cross, Boston Police, and Navy officers quickly joined them. Others looked after the wounded by keeping them warm and mending their wounds. They were diving into molasses in search of survivors in need of assistance. After the Boston molasses flood of 1919, a makeshift hospital was put up nearby to assist those who required acute treatment that lasted into the night.

It was extremely difficult for rescuers to do anything after the great Boston molasses flood of 1919, as walking on molasses was extremely unpleasant and exhausting. It took four days for the hunt to come to a total halt. Many of the victims were totally engulfed in molasses, rendering them unrecognizable, while others were so thoroughly engulfed by the wave that they were discovered three to four months later in Boston Harbor following the great Boston molasses flood of 1919.

In the aftermath of the Boston molasses disaster, city residents filed a class action lawsuit against the owners of Purity Distilling, the United States Alcohol Industry Company. It also spoke about the dead and victims of disasters. In 1919, this was one of the first class action cases in Boston and Massachusetts. This laid the foundation for current corporate regulation. During the trial, the USIA claimed that the tank was blown up by “anarchists”, but the court dismissed the claim and found the company guilty after a three-year trial.

After the great molasses flood of 1919, the USIA has been obliged to pay $628,000 in damages, which equates to $9.26 million in 2021, with relatives of those dead receiving about $7,000 per victim, which equates to $103,000 in 2021.

Victims of the Great Molasses Flood, Boston 1919

On that cold winter day, a terrible tragedy struck the city, 21 people died and another 150 were injured. It is important to pay tribute to those who died that day.

Cleaning 1919 Boston Molasses Disaster

great molasses flood

Cleaning up after the great molasses flood was difficult: it took months for things to return to normal. The cleaning crews, who included government officials, police officers, and volunteers, first utilized saltwater from fire boats to wash away the molasses before absorbing it with sand. The Boston molasses flood in the port area took weeks to clear, and the harbor was believed to be brown until summer. After then, rescuers and cleaners were entrusted with tracking down the molasses and determining how far it had spread throughout the city. The molasses mostly leaked into the subway and its platforms, but also into the trains, turning the seats dark and sticky. Molasses has also found its way into phones, residences, and a variety of other places.


Today, at the entrance to Puopolo Park, in memory of the great molasses flood in Boston, there is a plaque that describes the disaster of the past.

On January 15, 1919, 21 people died due to the disaster that happened. The reason for this was a molasses tank that exploded on Commercial Street. The problems with the reservoir and the changing temperatures led to a terrible disaster. On that day, a 40-foot wave flooded the surrounding area, damaged railroad tracks and destroyed many structures.

The great molasses flood of 1919 markedly changed Boston and its population, making it one of the city’s greatest tragedies. People smelled the sweet smell of molasses even after the catastrophe. Over time, molasses began to be called part of Boston, as Edward Park once said: “The scent of molasses has remained Boston’s distinctive, unmistakable atmosphere for decades.”

Some residents believe that the smell of molasses still seeps from the old buildings during the hot summer days. Today it is important to remember the 1919 great molasses flood because it was caused by incompetence and carelessness. Inattention, as a result of which 21 people died and another 150 were injured. Incompetence, which opened the way for better regulation and legislation to safeguard the public. Thanks to this occasion, we must understand how important it is to do our job efficiently and not forget about safety. We hope this article was helpful to you.

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