Great Boston Molasses Flood Plaque

Boston, Massachusetts
An unassuming spot in the North End commemorates one of the most peculiar events in Boston’s history — the Great Boston Molasses Flood.
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About This Location

In Boston’s industrial North End, where Commercial Street meets Copps Hill Terrace, lies a site of historical intrigue marked by a modest plaque. This unassuming spot commemorates one of the most peculiar events in Boston’s history—the Great Boston Molasses Flood.

On an unusually warm January 15th, 1919, at 12:45 in the afternoon, Boston Police Patrolman Frank McManus issued a frantic call for rescue as he witnessed a wave of molasses hurtling down Commercial Street. The source of this deluge was a ruptured five-story-tall tank, releasing a staggering 2.3 million gallons of molasses at a speed of approximately 35 miles per hour. The ensuing chaos was devastating, as buildings were demolished, electric poles toppled, and lives were tragically lost. The molasses, behaving like a deadly tidal wave, swept through the city, leaving destruction in its wake.

Initially attributed to Italian anarchists, the disaster was later revealed to be a result of the tank company’s negligence. Legal battles ensued, resulting in a million-dollar settlement and significant changes in corporate regulations. The cleanup effort, which spanned over 87,000 man-hours, left the area sticky and sweet-smelling for years to come.

Despite the magnitude of the disaster, little remains today to signify the havoc wreaked by the molasses flood. A small sign on Commercial Street serves as a humble reminder of this bizarre chapter in American history. However, in 2021, Boston erected a more comprehensive historical marker, providing a deeper insight into the tragedy.

The legacy of the Great Boston Molasses Flood lives on, not only as a cautionary tale of industrial negligence but also as a testament to the resilience of the community in the face of adversity.

The plaque itself reads,
“On January 15, 1919, a molasses tank at 529 
Commercial Street exploded under pres-
sure, killing 21 people. A 40-foot wave of 
molasses bucked the elevated railroad tracks, 
crushed buildings, and inundated the neigh-
borhood. Structural defects in the tank com-
bined with unseasonably warm temperatures 
contributed to the disaster.”

Location

Address: 525 Commercial Street Boston, Massachusetts
Place GPS Coordinates: 42.368694, -71.055667
Parking GPS Coordinates: 42.368694, -71.055667
Parking Notes: Roadside parking along Commercial Street is available just steps from the plaque. Additionally, there are parking garages and lots in the area. Such as the large parking garage at 600 Commercial Street.

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