The Boston Molasses Disaster, also known as the Great Molasses Flood, occurred on January 15, 1919, in Boston’s North End. The disaster occurred on an unusually warm day at the Purity Distilling Company when a large storage tank containing 2.3 million gallons of molasses burst. The collapse unleashed an immense wave of molasses fifteen feet high, moving at 35 miles an hour. Nearby buildings were swept off their foundations and several North End blocks were flooded to a depth of two to three feet. Nearly 150 people were injured and 21 people and several horses were killed in the disaster.
It took over 87,000 man hours to remove the molasses from the streets, theaters, businesses, automobiles, and homes. Boston Harbor was still brown with molasses until summer. Local residents brought a class-action lawsuit, one of the first held in Massachusetts, against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA), which had bought Purity Distilling in 1917. USIA ultimately paid out $600,000 in out-of-court settlements. The event has entered local folklore, and some residents claim that on hot summer days, the scent of molasses still hangs in the air.
(Source: Flickr / boston_public_library)