Pekin, IL Starch Explosion and Fire, Jan 1924
40 DEAD OR MISSING IN STARCH EXPLOSION AT PEKIN, ILLINOIS
Forty-Two Others Are Injured,
of Whom Eleven May Die
SCORE ARE BURIED IN DEBRIS
Two Buildings Collapse, Engulfing
Nine Workers in Box
FAMILIES BESIEGE PLANT
Trapped Man Sings to the Other
Victims — Damage Is Estimated
PEKIN . Ill., Jan. 3 (Associated
Press) — Two score of workers perished
in an explosion and fire which early
today destroyed two building of the
Corn Products Company plant here.
Tonight the employment office issued a
statement, listing thirty-four to forty
persons as dead or missing, twenty-
eight injured in hospitals, eleven prob-
ably fatally hurt, and fourteen injured
and removed to their homes.
Superintendent H. B. Lawton issued
a statement that he could, not tell just
how many were killed, as some workmen
may have left the plant without "checking
The explosion, caused probably by
dust, rocked the countryside with violence.
Tonight the fire which followed still was
burning. Firemen from Pekln and
Peoria kept the flames in check,
but their efforts added to the difficulty
of relief workers by covering debris
with a heavy coating of ice. A second
shift of wreckers had accomplished
nothing at nightfall except to clear away
some of the debris.
Wives and families of the victims did
not congregate at the plant, but kept
coming and going in a steady procession,
inquiring with quivering lips for
word of their loved ones.
Nearly all the dead, missing and injured
are Americans, residents of this
little town, whose 13,000 people were
torn with similar grief in 1917, when
the river steamer Columbia bore eighty-
six Pekin excursionists to a grave in
the Illinois River.
May Have Come From a Spark
State and Federal investigations of
the explosion were in sight tonight.
George M. Moffett of New York City,
Vice President and general manager of
the Corn Products Company, directed
Superintendent H. B . Lawton to spare
no cost in rescue work, and invited
J.W. Peirce, engineer in charge of dust
explosion investigations of the Department
of Agriculture at Washington, D.C ,
superintendent of a division which
investigates explosions, to conduct a full
There w a s no official who would venture
a guess as to the possible cause
of the explosion . It was admitted, however,
that a spark sufficient to cause
the crash might have come from friction,
or from defective electric wiring,
or from a lighted match or cigarette.
How the spark,was set "will always
remain a mystery," Superintendent Law -
ton said he believed. "Workmen never
brought tobacco or matches to work,
and formerly were searched to assure
that no matches were carried. Later,
however, it was said that an appeal
was made to the honor and self-
interest of the workers, which proved
There were 1,000,000 pounds of starch
in the buildings destroyed, which Chief
Chemist R. F. Sherman said contained
12 per cent, moisture. How starch of
this moisture content could have produced
explosive dust sufficient to cause
the extreme damage done to the plant
w a s a thing, he added, that he could
Nine Trapped in Box Cars.
As darkness closed about the workers,
a train-wrecker was still pulling cau-
tiously at the wreckage of five box
cars, in which nine loaders went to
their death, screaming prayers for help.
The full force of the derrick was not
exerted for fear the pull would bring
down upon the score of wreckers the
remaining walls of the ruins.
From before daylight until after dark,
a Salvation Army lassie worked among
injured, offering what relief she could.
Jan. 4, 1924 edition of The New York Times