Boston's Great Molasses Flood

Food Season 4, Ep 9 11/22/2016 Views: 16,477

A Boston distillery chooses the absolute worst person to oversee construction of its giant molasses tank. (2:56)

Hello, I'm Lucius Dillonand today we're going to talk

about the great molasses flood

My story starts--our storystarts at--19--hmm, hmm, hmm.

Our story starts at 1915.

So the Purity Distillery, which was in North Boston

in this area, is a very industrial area.

There was a bunch of Italian, Irish immigrants

all living in this area.

Molasses was a big mother[bleep] deal.

When they distilled it it would turn into rum,

so it was a huge commodity, butprohibition was coming around.

But there's a year-long grace period

so they came up with a great idea.

It was like, okay, what we can do is, for a whole year,

we can make as much liquor and rum and everything,

so let's just get as much [bleep] molasses as we can.

You know what, we need to build a huge tank

that could fill all this lovely molasses.

So they got a guy

who was the treasurer of the company, Arthur Jell.

And they're like, uh, have you had any architect experience?

Have you any--any engineering education?

Nope, nope.

Uh, they're like, hey, can you read this blueprint?

Uh, why do I need to read this blueprint?

That--that goes for the guys in the hats and the--

The construction workers?


The construction workers.

They can read it.

It's fine.

All right, you're our guy. Great.

So he didn't know what the [bleep] he was doing.

Any corner that neededto be cut, he cut it.

So they built this thing very terribly.

They would hear groansand gurgles from this tank.

It was like...[groans]




- Like it was--it was gonna barf.

- It's gonna pretty much puke.

So near the tank was Engine Number 31,

and in that firehouse was a bunch of firemen,

so we had Bill Connor, who was the chief.

We had George Layhe, and around lunchtime, you know,

every day, they would get together, play billiards.

There was a stonecutterwho would come by

named John Barry, who would just liked to come

every now and again, and he was like,

look, I--I'm really worried that this tank's gonna--

it's gonna explode.

I mean, of coursethe thing leaks immediately

and Arthur Jell was like, it's fine.

This is still a solid structure.

And everyone was like,but you can see leaks

from the tank.

Okay, well, uh, we can fix that.

We'll paint it brown

so you can't see the molasses coming out.


That doesn't help anything.

I'm so worried that this is gonna fail.

Arthur Jell was like, we're gonna make

a bazillion dollars off of this.

- What could possibly go wrong?

- What could possibly

go wrong?