Saturday, May 15, 2010

Great Molasses Flood

On a warm day in January 1919, a storage tank burst and molasses flowed down the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, in a wave 8' to 15' high. The wave, travelling at 35mph, overtook dozens of people, killing 21 and injuring 150 of them in addition to countless dogs and horses. The molasses lifted buildings off their foundations, overturned motorcars, and tossed an elevated train off its rails. The 2,300,000 gallons of syrup evened out to a knee-deep sticky mess in the North End. It took days to find all the victims, months to clean up the mess, and years to settle the lawsuits. Although the distillery tried to blame the explosion of the 6-story tank on saboteurs, it was known to have leaks and was believed to have failed from its own defects, combined with the warm weather.

Molasses was the standard sweetener at the time, and was also used to make alcohol and munitions. It arrived in a "triangular trade" route that involved exporting crops from New England to England, slaves from West Africa to the West Indies, and molasses from the West Indies to New England. Among other things, the molasses was used to flavor the baked beans Boston is known for (and the reason it is known as "Beantown"). If you have suddenly developed a craving and want to make them from scratch, here's an official recipe for Boston baked beans.

1 comment:

  1. My grandfather George E Russell a professor at MIT at the time did some of the earliest forensic ballistic work to testify in court that gunfire was not the cause of the tank failure


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