Litchfield, IL Flour Mill Explosion, Mar 1893
Explosion of Mill Dust
The Shock Felt Twenty-five Miles Distant.
The Great Planet Flouring Mill At Litchfield, IL., With Its Elevators, Destroyed-One Burned To Death and Several Injured-Loss Over A Million.
Litchfield, Ill., March 21.-An explosion, with the power of an earthquake, which destroyed a million dollars' worth of property, occurred here this morning. The loss of one life and the injury of a number of people resulted from the catastrophe.
Mrs. E.R. RICHELROTH, Sr.
Mrs. P. LYNCH.
Mrs. HENRY STEIGLE.
Mrs. LEVI HUSSEY.
Mrs. H.V. HOFFMAN.
Several business structures were wrecked and scores of dwellings were rendered uninhabitable. Panic reigned for a few hours.
At 3:15 a.m. an alarm of fire was turned in. The Planet Flouring Mill, situated in the southwest part of the city, and said to be one of the largest, single flour making establishment in the world, was in flames.
The fire was discovered by the night watchman in the bran room. He ran to a hydrant, but the water pipes did not work properly, and in an instant the flames spread to adjoining rooms. In less than two minutes the flames reached the flour rolling room, and an explosion of flour dust followed. The night watchman was hurled through a window and was badly injured.
The immense building tottered for a second, and fell in a heap of blazing timbers. The flames leaped across a small passageway and ignited two large grain elevators. In these were stored 20,000 barrels of flour and 200,000 bushels of wheat.
The head millwright, JOHN CARVE, in an effort to secure his tools from the burning building, was pinned against a smokestack and burned to death.
The firemen were driven back by the intense heat, and in less than half an hour the elevators and their contents were a total loss. Several small buildings adjacent to the elevators were burned.
The shock of the explosion was heard twenty-five miles away, and window glass was broken and chimneys blown down many miles distant. All the plate glass in the stores on Main and State Streets was blown out. About forty small dwellings were wrecked and many others slightly damaged.
The mill was the property of Kehlor Brothers of St. Louis. The capacity was 2,000 barrels of flour daily. It employed 150 men.
General Manager Smith say that the insurance carried on the mill, elevator and contents was about $350,000, while the loss will be almost $1,000,000.
Among the outside losses are: A. Neuber, grocery, saloon, and residence completely wrecked, $3,000; the V. Hoffman estate, $2,200; Jacob Krans, grocery and residence, $3,100; Bendorf Brothers, machinists, $6,000; Litchfield Hotel, $1,200. It is estimated that $5,000 worth of glass was destroyed in the town.
"I know nothing about the particulars," said Alexander H. Smith, when interviewed in St. Louis, "but I am certain that flour dust was not the cause. There have been many disastrous explosions of this character, but they are no longer possible. In the old days the dust was blown about the mill in a very finely-disseminated condition, and the air was filled with minute particles.
"The smallest shock, such as striking a match, was likely to cause an explosion. Just why the dust should explode was not known-probably today it would be said it was due to electricity-but since the invention of the dust machine by George T. Smith no such explosions are possible, as all mills are provided with them and there is no dust in the air. This was in all likelihood a boiler explosion; it was certainly not due to dust."
The New York Times, New York, NY 22 Mar 1893