The Great Molasses Flood Kills 21 and 150 Injured

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100 YEARS AGO: The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 Sends Giant 50-Foot Tsunami of Mollases Hitting Boston’s North End Killing 21 People and Injuring 150.

Boston Harbor was bustling in the 1900s, and a company called United States Industrial Alcohol had cornered the market on importing Molasses. The sticky substance was in high demand as it was distilled into alcohol, used to make dynamite, and other ammunition.

A four-story high holding tank was quickly constructed smack in the middle of Boston’s North End to keep up with the millions of gallons of molasses imported from Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the West Indies.

On Jan. 15, 1919, the tank reached capacity, and many residents feared the worst when the wooden structure started making weird noises. Around lunchtime, a mixture of gasses from the fermenting molasses was too much for the tank to hold.

Tsunami of Molasses Destroys Boston's North End
Tsunami of Molasses Destroys Boston’s North End

The structure grew unstable. It blew wide open, sending 2.3 million gallons of molasses rushing out of the tank at 35 miles per hour. A giant 50-foot tsunami of molasses engulfed the entire neighborhood.

The molasses moved quickly. “Ensnaring in its sticky flood more than 100 men, women, and children; crushing buildings, teams, automobiles, and streetcars—everything in its path—the black, reeking mass slapped against the side of the buildings,” wrote the Post.

Everything in its path destroyed “Big steel trolley freight cars crushed as if eggshells, and their piled-up cargo of boxes and merchandise minced like so much sandwich meat.”

IBoston’s North End was obliterated. The debris field coated in a thick, sticky layer of molasses. The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 claimed the lives of 21 people and injured over 150.


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