The Great Molasses Flood

In 1919, the Great Molasses Flood occurred in which city?

And the answer: Boston.

Photo Courtesy: Boston Globe Archive. 

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 occurred in the American city of Boston, Massachusetts. Filled with over two million gallons of molasses, a large storage tank burst, and a 15-foot wave of the thick sticky substance poured through the streets at an estimated 35 mph. Twenty-one people didn't survive, and another 150 were injured.

Looking down the barrel of impending prohibition, the United States Industrial Alcohol company was in a rush to turn the sweet sugary molasses into booze as quickly as possible. As a result, the 2.3 million gallon tank of molasses was filled to the brim – and then some. Around midday on January 15, 1919, after days of the customary creaks and groans of the giant tank, the molasses let out a roar as a devastating flood of the sweet sticky substance exploded out of the tank and down Commercial Street. Buildings were instantly swept off their foundations, cars were squashed, even a railroad car was turned off its tracks.

In the wake of the disaster, the victims filed 119 different lawsuits against United States Industrial Alcohol. In a long-drawn out case, in which the Industrial Alcohol Company cited sabotage by Italian anarchist groups, USIA finally paid the flood victims and their family members $628,000 in damages (the equivalent of around $8 million today). Meanwhile, the streets of downtown Boston and its waters remained brown for months. Some even claimed to smell the sweet molasses for years following the flood.  

Check out this NPR article for more on what's now known as Boston's strangest flood (or, alternatively, The Boston Molassacre).

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