The Molasses Fire

What was Boston’s Molasses Disaster?

On January 15, 1919, Boston suffered one its biggest, and strangest, disasters in its history. More than two million gallons of molasses burst out of its holding tank, creating a two-story tidal wave that traveled 35 miles per hour and flooded the streets with sticky, viscous, dark liquid. The wave destroyed everything in its path, including part of the elevated railroad track, and killed 21 people.

This molasses, which was stored in a 50-foot tall, 90-foot diameter tank in Boston’s North End neighborhood, was on deck to make alcohol for the manufacture of munitions, in high demand because of World War I.

What caused the burst?

The tank had been quickly and cheaply erected in 1915, without basic safety tests. The steel used for the tank was only half as thick as it should have been. The tank leaked so badly, the company painted it brown, so the leaks would be less noticeable. Children playing nearby would eat the sticky, sweet treat as it leaked from the tank.

It is thought that the unseasonably warm temperature of that day fermented the molasses which increased the pressure from inside the tank. Unable to withstand the pressure, the tank burst, sending steel pieces through the air, molasses over the ground, and rivets shooting out like bullets. The warm temperature of the molasses inside the tank allowed it to flow rapidly but as it cooled in the open air, it became thicker and hampered efforts to rescue people.

How could a public adjuster help?

In our current day insurance framework, a public adjuster would represent the home or building owners whose property was damaged. The public adjuster would put in a claim through the owner’s insurance company and manage the claim, including arranging alternative housing, handling remediation companies, and getting the insured the best settlement possible.

Why through the individual homeowners’ policies and not the owner of the tank’s?

When there’s a widespread disaster like this one, it’s tough to prove who is liable and sometimes it takes years. Was it the owner of the tank? Was it the company who constructed it? Was it the manufacturer of the parts? It’s faster and easier to have your public adjuster put the claim through your individual policy. Then, your insurance company could subrogate against the other parties if they choose. In the meantime, you’re on your way to rebuilding.

Robert L. McCormack Public Adjusters, Inc. has more than fifty years in the insurance adjusting field and an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. We have adjusted every type of property claim there is: fire, storms, water, robbery, you name it. Licensed in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Florida, and Texas, we can handle your claim from start to finish. Contact us today via email or telephone 508-588-4243.

Looking for more information on the molasses disaster? Check out Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo. Here’s a clip of the author discussing the flood.

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