The Great Molasses Flood of 1919



9 Questions

What caused the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in Boston?

How fast did the wave of molasses move through the streets of Boston?

What company stored the molasses in the tank that burst?

What was the height of the storage tank that burst?

What was the depth of the flood caused by the Great Molasses Flood?

Who were the first responders to the scene of the Great Molasses Flood?

How much did the company ultimately pay out in damages for the Great Molasses Flood?

What was used to clean up the molasses after the Great Molasses Flood?

What changes resulted from the Great Molasses Flood?


The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in Boston

  • On January 15, 1919, a storage tank filled with 2.3 million U.S. gallons of molasses burst, sending a wave of molasses through the streets of Boston's North End neighborhood.
  • The wave of molasses moved at an estimated 35 miles per hour, killing 21 people and injuring 150.
  • The Purity Distilling Company stored the molasses in the tank, which stood 50 feet tall and 90 ft in diameter, to offload molasses from ships and store it for later transfer by pipeline to the Purity ethanol plant.
  • Witnesses reported feeling the ground shake and hearing a roar as the tank collapsed. The wave of molasses was of sufficient force to drive steel panels of the burst tank against the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway's Atlantic Avenue structure and tip a streetcar momentarily off the El's tracks.
  • Several blocks were flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 ft. The molasses became viscous, trapping those caught in the wave and making it even more difficult to rescue them.
  • First to the scene were 116 cadets from USS Nantucket, a training ship of the Massachusetts Nautical School, who ran several blocks toward the accident. The Boston Police, Red Cross, Army, and Navy personnel soon arrived.
  • In the wake of the accident, 119 residents brought a class-action lawsuit against the United States Industrial Alcohol Company (USIA), which had bought Purity Distilling in 1917.
  • The company ultimately paid out $628,000 in damages ($9.82 million in 2021, adjusted for inflation). Relatives of those killed reportedly received around $7,000 per victim (equivalent to $109,000 in 2021).
  • Cleanup crews used salt water from a fireboat to wash away the molasses and sand to absorb it, and the harbor was brown with molasses until summer.
  • Several factors might have contributed to the disaster, including a tank that leaked from the very first day that it was filled in 1915, poor construction and insufficient testing, and carbon dioxide production raising the internal pressure due to fermentation in the tank.
  • The disaster resulted in many laws and regulations governing construction being changed, including requirements for oversight by a licensed architect and civil engineer.
  • The Great Molasses Flood has become a staple of local culture and was the theme of the 2019 MIT Mystery Hunt.
  • A book called I Survived the Great Molasses Flood, 1919 was written by the author Lauren Tarshis as part of the I Survived children's historical fiction book series.


How much do you know about the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in Boston? Test your knowledge with this quiz and learn more about the tragic event that claimed 21 lives and left a lasting impact on construction regulations. Discover the causes of the disaster, the heroic efforts of first responders, and the aftermath of the cleanup and lawsuits. See if you can answer questions about the size and contents of the storage tank, the speed and force of the molasses wave, and the historical significance of this

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