The Boston Molasses disaster occurred on 15 January 1919, when a molasses tank burst and more than 2.3 million gallons of oil spilled into a deadly storm. The disaster killed 21 people as the wave pushed between 25 with 45 mph and a prevailing temperature of about 44 degrees Fahrenheit. The company, United States Industrial Alcohol (USIA), had erected a riveted tank at the north end of Boston, which was also the waterfront for the storing of molasses. The size of the tank was 50 by 90 feet in diameter, for a capacity of 2,300,000 gallons. With such huge size, the fast flowing molasses at 25feet in height at some locations was able to destroy to destroy buildings and knocking down an elevated railroad track and the supporting columns backward. This paper discusses the disaster by considering the way the regulations changed after this incident, the purpose and usage of the molasses, and the consequences to the company that owned the tank. It will also mention and explain the legal fights that ensued following the disaster.
Molasses and its usage
The Boston Molasses was sourced from sugar plantations in the Caribbean, and the primary purpose was to manufacture industrial alcohol, which is higher percentage ethyl alcohol that is not meant for use as a beverage. The company, USIA, would then sell the alcohol to manufacture munitions, especially during the First World War, and for producing explosives (Lyons, 2009). This was the major use associated with USIA or the companies to whom it sold the molasses. Other uses depend on the type produced such as the dark molasses, light molasses, and blackstrap molasses. It can be used in cooking and baking, dietary supplement, used in food products as an additive, it is chemically treated to use in de-icing and can produce alternative fuel for vehicles among other uses.
How did the regulations change after the incident?
There was an overlook of the engineering principles during the construction of the tank as it had not achieved the accepted safety factor in selecting the thickness of the wall. According to Lyons, (2009), the steel tank was made of plates manufactured by Purity Distilling Company that were thinner than originally planned. It was reported that the post accident measures showed that many of the plates were only a half inch thick. The designers had also used lap joints in the construction, and the rivets were now 1 inch in the diameter. The shearing action had caused many of the rivets to fall off, which means that they had been driven cold, but regulations and engineering practices require heating the rivets to red-hot before driving. Regulations for the construction of the tank required these standards to be met.
Changes to the regulations included the requirements by the city authorities to have plans for all the construction activities and projects, which must be signed off by an engineer or a qualified architect (Potter, 2011). The signing must also be filed with the building department in the city, which is a practice that later spread across all America as a pre-construction requirement. As a safety measure, the building department also required that all apparatus must be tested extensively and that there must be a follow-up to the construction program meant to ensure the smooth running of everything.
Consequences and the legal fights for the company that owned the tanks
Investigations indicated that the tank had been poorly constructed with an insufficient structural strength to handle the load filled. This meant that USIA Company could be held for manslaughter. Evidence presented to the grand jury indicated a lack of inspection during the building the tank, provided that the company may have acted without the knowledge of the city inspectorate and so it was not its mistake alone (Crandall, Parnell & Spillan, 2013). However, it is worth noting that some of the government officials had expressed suspicion of the involvement of anarchists in the incidence. It also turned out to be a blame game while the court proceeding had initially become insufficient to the people, especially when the judge in the municipal court Wilfred Bolster indicated that the public was to blame for the incident (Puleo, 2017).
According to Puleo, (2003), an August 1920 lawsuit filed against the company need it to make a clear response as the case became even more complicated. The victims were forced to take 119 separate cases against the company to the superior court and made it a consolidated one case. In this particular moment, the presiding court official was an auditor and not a judge. The purpose was to have a precise evaluation of the evidence, the arguments, and the testimony and help decide if there is a chance that the case could proceed to a full hearing in court. As earlier observed the defense’s main argument was that a bomb caused the tank failure as was planted by some anarchists, but the plaintiffs were there to seek a proper retribution due to bad construction and negligence. In the end, justice was served, and the victims and their families compensated with more than $7000 each, and this became a lesson to the rest of the society too. The incident was also a major reference in changing the many engineering protocols including follow-ups and attention to safety emphasized.
Crandall, W., Parnell, J., & Spillan, J. (2013). The Great Boston Molasses Flood. http://doi.org/10.4135/9781506324319
Lyons, Chuck. A Sticky Tragedy. History Today 59, no. 1 (2009): 40-42. EBSCOhost http://search.ebscohost.comproxy.iwu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ahl&AN=A8000 68196.01&site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed January 12, 2017).
Potter, S. (2011). Retrospect: January 15, 1919: Boston Molasses Flood. Weatherwise,64(1), 1011. http://doi.org/10.1080/00431672.2011.536113
Puleo, Stephen. Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 2003
Puleo, Steve. Death by Molasses. America: History & Life 35, no. 6 (2001): 60-64, 66. EBSCOhost http://search.ebscohost.comproxy.iwu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ahl&AN=A0005 04280.01&site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed January 12, 2017).