Great Boston Molasses Flood

Filed under: Today in History

Today is the anniversary of the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. There are some incredible archival photos from the Boston Globe at the link above, including this one.

Haven’t heard of the Great Boston Molasses Flood? You’re not alone. In addition to not killing anyone famous, “Another reason the flood has never attained lofty historical significance may be because of its very essence — molasses. The substance itself gives the entire event an unusual, whimsical quality. Often, the first reaction of the uninformed when they hear the words ‘molasses flood’ is a raised eyebrow, maybe a restrained giggle, followed by the incredulous, `What, you’re serious? It’s really true'”?

That was me when I first moved to Boston. I pictured a great brown blob oozing down the street in a manner that I imagined was somehow a cross between the enormous breast from Monty Python and the Stay Puft Marshmallow man. But that was not the case. The wall of molasses tore through Boston’s North End like a thirty foot high tsunami, the difference being that a tsunami travels in only one direction while this wave went in every direction at once when the giant tank collapsed.

Stephen Puleo‘s Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 is likely the definitive account of the events that surrounded the molasses flood, and it’s a fascinating read.

Even if this is an event that is mostly lost to history, its effects were long lasting and far reaching. In the epilogue Puleo writes that “the molasses case influenced the adoption of engineering certification laws in all states,” and that “the Boston molasses flood did for building construction regulations nationwide what a subsequent Boston disaster, the great Coconut Grove nightclub fire, did for fire code laws.”

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