January 15, 1919

January 15, 2021

There are bocci courts and a little league ball field there now, but on warm summer days they say you still detect the aroma of molasses in the air. It seems to be an idyllic setting along the banks of the Charles River at Boston’s North End, but on January 15, 1919, it was a different story.

That was the day of the Great Molasses Flood when a giant tank containing nearly 2.5 million gallons of molasses ruptured and flooded the streets of the North End. Estimates are the the flood reached a velocity of 35 miles per hour. Twenty-one people were killed in the accident and one hundred and fifty injured. Buildings were crushed by the flood and people and animals were engulfed and trapped. The problem became worse as temperatures cooled that evening and the molasses thickened.

The problems, it seems, had to do with a constellation of causes: sub-standard steel in the tank, damaged or imperfect rivets holding the tank together, mild temperatures on the Boston afternoon, and a larger than normal volume of molasses in the tank.

I love molasses and can’t get enough, but in 1919 a molasses flood was the stuff of nightmares.


  1. What a tragedy.

  2. Indeed.

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