The Boston Toffee-Apple Tsunami

The Boston Toffee-Apple Tsunami

( – Talk about a sweet, yet sticky situation! In Boston’s North End, buildings were leveled, horses were knocked over, 150 people were injured and 21 people lost their lives. Act of Mother Nature? Nope, this unexpected fiasco was caused by an exploding molasses tank, which would eventually result in the longest legal case Boston had ever seen. So, just what happened on that fateful day?

What Happened?

On January 15th, 1919 the streets of Boston were covered by over two million gallons of a sticky goo after a tank of molasses exploded. Records indicate that the wave of sticky sludge was nearly 15 feet high and traveled through Boston’s North End at close to 35 miles per hour. According to reports given at the time, nearby buildings were flattened; the incident is actually well documented. But how exactly, many might ask, does molasses explode?

Exploding Molasses

The shipment of molasses arrived just two days prior to the incident. Upon arrival from the Caribbean, the molasses was thick and viscous. Typically, the tanks are suspended and secured about 50 feet above the ground for safety reasons. To ease the process of refining the molasses, heat is applied to the tank.

The previous two nights had been frigid and cold. The cold interior, in combination with the applied heat, caused a quick change in temperature, resulting in the molasses expanding rapidly. Eventually, the heat generated pressure which built up inside the cast iron container, causing it to explode, resulting in the tsunami of sticky substance.

How Can Molasses Be Fatal?

Molasses isn’t exactly known for its deadliness or speed; however, on that tragic day, it was both. The majority of casualties were taken by the workers below the container, who had no prior notice or warning of what was happening. Nearby pedestrians who were caught by the sludge became stuck and drowned.

The blast’s impact could be seen for a few hundred kilometers, and it took Boston weeks to clean the massive mess up. After this incident, an inquiry was done in response to prior leakage reports.

USIA Shirks Responsibility

The American Physical Society stated that prior to the incident, tanks leaked so bad residents began siphoning off the sweet substance for personal consumption. Though people filed many complaints with the company, they chose to paint the tanks a molasses color rather than repairing them.

The USIA would later attempt to chalk the entire ordeal up as a terrorist attack. This designation prompted the state to change laws ensuring proper inspection of future projects.

This catastrophe and the regulations that it spurred would start a ripple effect across the country. To this day, architects, engineers and building inspectors must all follow building construction standards that stem from the bizarre Boston Toffee-Apple Tsunami.

Copyright 2022,