Today in Fire History: The Great Boston Molasses Flood

Blog Post created by jrodowicz Employee on Jan 15, 2017

The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919This picture, taken on January 15, 1919 during the Great Boston Molasses Flood shows wreckage beneath the elevated train tracks, where many express trucks parked. (Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)


From the NFPA Journal v. 105, no. 4, 2011:


"The molasses tore the North End Paving Yard buildings into kindling, ripped the Engine 31 firehouse from its foundation and nearly swept it into the harbor … crushed freight cars, autos, and wagons, and ensnared men, women, children, horses, dogs, rats, wood, and steel. The molasses wave crashed across Commercial Street into brick tenements and storefronts, rebounded off the buildings, and retreated like the outgoing tide, leaving shattered windows and crushed walls in its wake.

… In minutes — in seconds — the landscape in the North End inner harbor area resembled a bombed-out war zone...


Shortly after the flood, the Boston Building Department began requiring that all calculations of engineers and architects be filed with their plans and that stamped drawings be signed, a practice that became standard across the country. The molasses case influenced the adoption of engineering certification laws in all states, as well as the requirement that all plans for major structures be sealed by a registered professional engineer before a municipality or state would issue a building permit. Interestingly, the Boston molasses flood did for building construction regulations nationwide what a subsequent Boston disaster, the great Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire, did for fire code laws."


For more information regarding this or other historic fires and events, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Library. The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. Library staff are available to answer reference questions from members and the general public.