In 1919, The Great Molasses Flood hit Boston, Massachusetts and surely is one of the strangest man-made disasters the world has ever witnessed. What is Molasse you ask? It is a thick black treacle liquid made from refining sugar cane or sugar beets. Sugarcane molasse is mostly used as a sweetener or flavoring foods in the United States as it is very nice in taste and aroma, it is the main ingredient when making commercial fine brown sugar.
Well, we all love a little sugar, but this disaster was extremely deadly. On the 15th January 1919, the wave of syrup that exploded out of the refining factory caused 21 deaths and injured over 150 other people. It even flattened whole buildings and ruined streets completely. But how could syrup be so deadly?
A 90-foot wide cast iron tank was being used to contain two and a half million gallons of crude molasses, that the United States Industrial Alcohol Company’s refining factory had just received two days prior from their Caribbean rum manufacturers. The tank was actually located about 50 feet in the air, high above the street level. This meant that when the cast did explode, its contents came bursting out within a matter of seconds and did not give the workers any prior notice. This caused a huge wave of sticky substance to crash down the streets, reports say it was 15 feet high and hurtled down the roads at speeds over 35mph.
The problem was a rapid change in Boston’s overnight temperatures when the molasse had arrived it was quickly heated in its cast iron container to make it easier to be refined. The drop in temperature would have caused the substance to expand, like a cake and explode open the container. You see when you heat the molasses it makes it more liquid and easier to move into a storage tank, but when it is colder it becomes a thicker syrup. Researchers claim had this shipment arrived in the summer this disaster would never have happened, or not have claimed as many lives.
The thick syrup mess that came cruising down the streets of Boston easily entangled pedestrians. The substance engulfed them completely, it was so sticky they could not get out and people that got stuck drowned. In fact, survivors who did make it to the hospital were described as walking toffee apples!