Nearly 100 years ago, a giant tank of molasses nearly took Boston down. Here's the sweet low-down...

In 1915, the United States Alcohol Company built a giant tank to hold molasses, but the guy in charge couldn't read blueprints, and no engineers were brought in to make sure that everything was A-OK. The tank was also never properly tested and experienced lots of leaks. On January 15, 1919, the tank, measuring 50 by 90 feet, then located in Boston, collapsed on a unseasonably warm winter day, after the molasses inside had probably fermented, creating a lot of pressure inside. 

The aftermath of the molasses disaster. Image via Wikimedia Commons Public Domain.

As a result, two million gallons of sweetener were unleashed on Beantown, creating 25-foot-high, 160-foot-long waves that swamped the city. The rolling molasses turned rivets from the tank into missiles, broke windows and ruined firehouses, and swept up people and animals in its wake. Part of the tank itself even messed up the railroad!

After the damage was done, rescuers counted 21 dead and 150 wounded. Because molasses is so viscous, people couldn't swim through the waves or breathe through it; those caught up in it were often asphyxiated. One child got stuck in the wave and was slammed against a lamppost; although his skull was broken, he actually survived. Rescuers had to wade through and avoid getting sucked into the sticky stuff; it took 87,000 hours for people to get all the molasses out of the nearby buildings and land, and the water nearby remained brown for months. 

Feature image via Stray Boots.