Dark Tide

DarkTideSuggested by Brad Nelson • A 50-foot-tall steel tank filled with 2.3 million gallons of molasses collapses on Boston’s waterfront, creating a 15-foot wave of molasses that demolishes everything in its path. It would be years before a court battle determined who was responsible for the disaster.
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2 Responses to Dark Tide

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    A somewhat breezy read at 273 pages, it’s surprising a new phrase didn’t enter America’s lexicon: “Molasses happens.”

    This book combines the event of a collapsed steel tank with the history of the time, the region, and the molasses trade in general. You’ll be shocked to learn that at one time the United States — including Boston — did not generally like anarchists, Communists, and socialists. Now Boston will vote for little but.

    One interesting factoid I picked up: Upon gaining the right to vote, women supported the GOP’s Warren Harding/Calvin Coolidge ticket in fairly large numbers. Also, I had no idea that low-grade molasses was used to help make explosives.

    No doubt tales such as this were read by Barack to his children as bedtimes stories. What could be more up his alley? A greedy capitalist cuts corners (for profit, of course) and causes a disaster. From this disaster lots and lots of good government regulation was produced.

    But, geez, what a Chinese fire drill. The guy in charge of procuring and building the tank was an accountant and he was told to rush the job. It was amazing that it didn’t occur to anyone to ever check with an engineer to check the integrity of the plans or the integrity of the structure after it was built, especially because the results of a collapse would obviously be devastating. This thing was smack-dab on the edge of downtown Boston. Basically this accountant just put in a phone call to a company that made steel tanks as said “We need a big one.”

    Here’s an overview of the book by one Amazon reviewer:

    United States Industrial Alcohol (USIA) used molasses to make it’s product and that industrial alcohol was in turn used by companies like DuPont to make smokeless gunpowder and high explosives for artillery shells. World War I had greatly increased the demand for industrial alcohol and as USIA increased it’s production they decided that they needed this molasses storage tank. As Puleo tells his readers about the construction of the tank he begins to introduce his audience to some of the people who lived and worked near by. The reader will see the tank placed in a very congested area and the author will explain why it ended up there. He will also show how construction was rushed, poorly tested and never inspected. Basically it was a disaster waiting to happen.

    When the inevitable did happen and the tank collapsed 2.3 million gallons of molasses surged out in a wave 35 feet high. It is hard to imagine the horror of drowning in molasses but that is exactly what happened to some people while others were crushed in obliterated buildings. Puleo gives us not only the stories of surviving family members as they searched for their loved ones buy also many amazing stories of survival as described by those who were badly injured but survived. The anguish, fear and desperation felt by these people as they struggled to survive is related here with as much feeling and drama as will be found in any novel. The court case that followed is also told in a wonderfully readable way, which is not an easy task when dealing with often-tedious legal arguments. The case against USIA ended up setting a precedent that from then on would force large companies to take responsibility for their actions and for this reason alone this is an important event in American history.

    A sticky history indeed. There’s far too much about Italian anarchists, but it’s interesting to note that they beat the Islamists at being the first terrorists in America.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Of course, the connection of molasses to alcohol (or at least alcoholic beverages) is already well known; the triangle trade of molasses to rum to slaves is not only the heart of my favorite song from the musical 1776, but was also something I read about in grade-school history at some point.

    Women leaning Republican back then was hardly a surprise. The GOP pushed for suffrage far more than the Democrats (Wilson had been a reluctant supporter). Also, women are averse to change, and therefore tend to favor the status quo — which made them lean conservative as late as 1960 (Nixon actually won more female votes than Kennedy). Since then the status quo has been a leftist one, with the right being more interested in changing it. Also, women tend to be pro-peace, which favored the Democrats in 1964 and from 1972 on. There are also specific female groups that favor the Left today that were irrelevant in the 1920s.

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