Back in 1919 Boston’s, North End was an industrial Hub.
It was right on the Harbor were large freighter.
Ships, were constantly passing through some carrying goods from the Caribbean.
The neighborhood was a Melting Pot of immigrants, many of them from Italy.
When it was nice out.
Some workers would take their lunch break, along the busy.
Waterfront next to a Park were kids would often be playing above them loomed a 50-foot tall, rust Brown steel storage tank, filled with industrial-grade molasses.
The kids would sometimes, swipe some of the sticky sweet lose that leaked from the bottom on warm days.
The tank made this deep groaning noise, but the north Enders were used to it.
The steel tank had been groaning for years.
And then, in January of 1919.
The tank exploded unleashing, a roaring tsunami of thick brown goo.
The effects of which would be felt for years to come.
From gimlet media.
This is not past it a show about the stories.
We can’t quite leave behind every episode.
We take a moment from that very same week in history and tell you the story of how it shaped our world.
I’m Simone palana in 103 years ago this week at 12:30 p.m.
On January 15, 1919 a wave of molasses ripped through Boston’s North End.
In the wake of the syrupy disaster.
People had questions, like, what caused the tank to blow?
Or maybe the question was who that’s coming up.
So stick around.
Actually, maybe not the best choice of words, there, stay tuned.
The great Molasses Flood, it all began with an explosion and a tank and when I say tank, maybe you’re picturing like one of those little water tanks or something, but I cannot overstate just how huge this thing was the Molasses tank towered over the North End, 50 feet tall, and 90 feet, in diameter taller than the buildings that surrounded it taller than the elevated.
Train track that Through the neighborhood.
And it held more than 2 million gallons of molasses.
I mean this thing looked like a freaking spaceship had landed along Boston’s Harbor.
So why would they need to store that much molasses know, not to make a million gingerbread cookies.
The answer is actually War specifically World War one which started in 1914 and which the US would eventually join three years.
Later, so there’s an anticipation with a war beginning in 1914, even though the United States is not involved.
The United States could be producing Munitions to sell to the belligerent Powers.
This is Suffolk University history, professor.
And Boston historian, Robert Allison, and he says a big part of Munitions production wouldn’t you know, is molasses the Molasses would be processed by the United States industrial alcohol.
Company and going to be used in explosives.
So it was very important to the economy of Massachusetts molasses was converted into ethanol, which would later be refined into a powder.
Some of that would get used to make smokeless powder for explosives.
One company that processed Molasses for these.
You know, weapony reasons was the United States industrial, alcohol company or usia for short.
They needed a lot of storage.
They needed it close to the harbor to receive shipments and they needed it all fast.
So in early 1915, usia built that giant spaceship of a molasses tank in the North End, overlooking, Boston Harbor.
And it sat there for a few short years until one unseasonable warm morning.
People here, but sounds like machine gun fire.
And the big sheets of Steel that had been the Tang are pushed to par and to 50-foot wall of molasses goes in all directions.
All the molasses in the tank enough to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools oozed over the city.
It’s likely that because it was such a warm day.
The Molasses was much less viscous and more fluid and it tore through the neighborhood around 30.
Five miles per hour.
There are a couple of houses on the other side of the street, one is a frame house is completely demolished a woman sleeping inside.
She’s killed as the house collapses honor.
So you have this huge wall of Goo essentially sending these tank in different directions and it hits the trolley line that goes along Commercial Street.
The wave leveled, the train line, 1 train conductor was able to stop his train, just after the wave, ripped through the tracks.
Saving many lives, but not everyone was so lucky.
The people who died in it or actually draft and imagine being drowned.
But you’re being drowned by this thick, this US fluid and your suffocated in the molasses.
Horses drowned in the wave people were knocked into the harbor and the debris that got caught in the Molasses turned into flying shrapnel, tearing through every building and every body and its path.
We realized it was a molasses tank.
It started by then to flow across the playground.
This is Captain Harry.
How from a 1981 interview, recounting a rescue, he attempted right after the flood, we came to this truck and it was and I’m sticking out from underneath an officer took three or four of us to help do whatever we could and we could see that there was a man in there and Lieutenant said, well, get him out, get him out.
So we did crawl under and get him out.
But even he had been dead for some few minutes though.
The warm day had kept the Molasses liquid enough to rip through the North End as temperatures dropped that evening, the sticky molasses that coated the streets began to harden in some places.
It was Was inches thick?
Red Cross, ambulances flooded to the scene Bay along with other rescue workers and Good.
Samaritans like Captain, how searched through the rubble for survivors?
Some used steel, cutting torches others dug through with their hands.
Buildings had been swept everywhere, even into the nearby park were bodies lay under the wreckage survivors, gasped for air between the hardening molasses and the rubble.
It took days.
To find all the bodies as Rescuers continued, their search going to.
And from the North End, the thick sticky molasses was tracked, all throughout Boston and in the North End, the sweet sour smell of molasses would linger for months.
In the end, 21 people died more than 100 were injured.
You have this sudden explosion and the disaster itself takes maybe 5-10 minutes, but then it is going to be months to try to clean this up.
I mean, take down the buildings that have been damaged, everything of course, is now covered with this sticky goo Boston’s fire department found that salt water could dissolve the sticky stuff and they slowly flushed it into the harbor.
At one point, the water became so full of accumulated, molasses that it turned a thick soupy Brown.
Once the sugar swell settled, everyone started wondering the same thing who was responsible for this horrific disaster, almost immediately people and even newspaper reports speculated that the explosion was caused by a bomb, according to history, writer Bruce Watson.
This was because at the time bombings and attacks were pretty frequent.
There was a series of bombings in Teen, where bombs were sent to Rockefeller, and JP Morgan and some 30 different leaders and they were all signed Dale had and this wasn’t faceless violence.
The people who were behind these bombings were anarchists Anarchist believe that because government was oppressive, that democracy was a joke.
It would never work.
The American representative democracy was no different and that the only hope for Humanity was eventually to get rid of all that.
That just clean, clean it out.
There was a good deal of violence during the years directly after the war.
The worst damage was caused.
When a bomb went off in Wall Street.
Just outside of JP Morgan’s office.
One of the most notable attacks took place around the same time on Wall Street in New York City, reportedly anarchists packed, a street cart, close to the New York Stock Exchange, full of dynamite and shrapnel Anarchist bombings like Is were happening with alarming frequency and it just so happened to be that many of these anarchists were Italian immigrants.
Italian anarchists would be the logical people to point a finger at for almost anything that happened that was violent and or horrific and who lived in Boston’s North End.
A lot of Italian immigrants.
This is a new wave of immigrants that have come since 1890.
Most of them were from Southern and Eastern, Europe, Italy, and they, all were divided into little on face, many people who fled And persecution, and Italy and search of opportunity ended up in the north end, but they weren’t greeted warmly.
It was across America that there was all this resentment of immigrants, very similar to what we’ve seen in the last few years.
They’re taking our jobs.
They aren’t like us.
Americans hostile to emigrants know.
They don’t assimilate like we all did.
They don’t speak English like we all do.
They are white in some ways you Many ways they were considered even Italians were considered not white, not white Anglo-Saxon Protestant anyway, so, of course, if something happened in the Italian, North End, who would you point a finger at Italian?
Anarchists from the North End?
Blew up the Molasses tank?
That’s what many people were going with.
It all seemed to make sense.
But if you talk to the locals about what happened to the Molasses tank, well, They had a different suspect, the Molasses may have covered the streets, but it couldn’t cover the truth.
That’s after the break.
Welcome back before the break.
We heard about the great molasses wave that tore through Boston’s North End, a working-class community of immigrants devastated by the sticky flood.
And we heard about the growing suspicion that Italian anarchists were behind this sweet disaster, but a lot of the immigrants who lived in the North End, they weren’t buying the theory that the tank had been bombed.
Because as Robert Allison, the Suffolk history, professor says, they’ve been worried about this molasses tank for years.
People in the neighborhood began saying, you know, we see the Molasses leaking out of the ribbons and we don’t think the tank is safe.
They had heard the tank grown.
They had seen the tank leak, and after they reported the leaking to usia, the company that operated the tank.
What did USAA do?
The company’s response to that was to paint the tank Brown.
No one’s going to see the Molasses leaking anymore.
We’ll just paint it over.
So the victims families and people in the neighborhood banded together and did something quite American.
They sued the fuck out of usia.
Actually with 109, 110 victims are plaintiffs, which one of the largest class action lawsuits in the history of Massachusetts months after the disaster.
A series of civil cases were ordered where these plaintiffs would demand accountability from usia in the end. 119 people sued, and it was the first lawsuit of its kind in the state.
Which process it takes about three and a half years from Time of the explosion to then have the witnesses and the testimony taken, the judge would listen to hours upon hours of testimony.
It was reported that he would keep the court open until 10 p.m.
To hear from anyone in the community.
In the end.
There were over 3,000 Witnesses called and nearly 40,000 pages of testimony.
And in all of that testimony, some pretty damning evidence against usia emerged for starters.
The tanks construction was pretty shitty.
It was constructed quite quickly.
It was enormous and I’m surprisingly that the walls of the tank were really thin.
This is Science and History.
Reporter Emily sewn, who’s written about the explosion.
So it was just .67.
Inches at the bottom and a little thinner Point, 31 inches at the top.
And that’s I’m just pinching my fingers together.
That is extremely thin walls.
Even if you’re not up on all the laws of physics, it just feels intuitively like, that’s too thin.
Normally takes like these were tested first filled with water to see if there were vulnerabilities in the tank spots were at leaked to make sure that it could hold all of, That molasses.
I think we have this temptation.
People didn’t didn’t know enough.
Maybe it was an honest mistake.
Maybe they didn’t have all the information they needed but they did know better.
They knew that they should have tested the tank but usia just didn’t why Boston historian?
Robert Allison says it’s because they simply chose not to take the time to do it.
The tank had been Finished in 1915 actually of the very day.
The first shipment of molasses arrived from Cuba and they didn’t have time to fill it with water to see if it leaked.
So rather than do that.
We simply filled it up and the tank had been filled from 1915 until exploded in 1919.
Despite the heaps of damning evidence usia kept trying to evade responsibility and blame the Italian anarchists, but there was never any evidence of a bombing in the nearly six years of legal.
Proceedings, usia could never prove that the cause of the explosion was anything except their own negligence.
The company tried to lean into a narrative of the violent disgruntled immigrant, but it didn’t work.
And so finally the judge slammed the gavel down on usia.
The tanks faulty construction had led to the disastrous wave in the North End.
Usia settled for six hundred thousand dollars which translates to about 8 million dollars.
Today, the community fought back and won the corporation lost, you know, when people tell the story of the great Molasses Flood, they often mention a silver lining because USA A was found responsible stricter.
Construction standards were created across the country in part protecting people from harm.
Yes, but also helping to Shield companies from certain liabilities.
So sure more emphasis on safety.
We can call that progress, but how protected are people really?
This kind of story where a company Cuts corners and ends up harming people that still happens.
Businesses, do this to their workers workers who need the jobs when they skirt workplace regulations that lead to on-the-job injuries and Industrial disasters.
They do this to the communities they exist in when they extract resources and dump waste with impunity.
They do this whenever they make a choice that prioritises business needs and profit margins over people’s safety people’s lives even and leave behind.
Find a mess for others to clean up.
Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media.
This episode was produced by Ramon A Philip next week.
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I wrote this two years ago and preparing for this.
I went back and reread it and constantly going, what really?