Worcester, MA Boiler Explosion, July 1859

Terrific Boiler Explosion at Worcester.

[From the Worcester Spy, July 23.]

One of the most terrific explosions that ever occurred in this vicinity took place in this city yesterday afternoon, at the wire factory of MESSRS. I. WASHBURN & CO., on Grove street. The large steam boiler, thirty feet long and four feet in diameter, and weighing about five tons, attached to their powerful engine, exploded with tremendous force, shattering the engine house (which is of brick) into atoms, demolishing a portion of the walls of the main building adjacent, and injuring several workmen, one severely, but it is hoped not fatally.

So immense was the force of the explosion that the ponderous boiler, leaving the fire-box and the crown-sheet behind, shot through the engine-house walls into the air, to an altitude of two hundred feet at the highest, as estimated by many observers, and reached the ground, striking with the top downward, in the garden of MR. J. M. C. ARMSBY, on Lincoln street, over a quarter of a mile distant and driving itself into the earth to the depth of four feet; but it rebounded from the garden, and breaking off a portion of the top or rim, which it left buried there, finally spent its force in landing itself on the furthest side of Lincoln street, where it lay extending diagonally across. It tore away MR. ARMSBY'S fence for a width of fifteen feet, and injured the fence of MR. J. H.. GERAULD. One of the blues of the boiler, being disengaged after the bursting off of the top or rim, shot out, and precipitated itself alongside of the boiler in the street.

The explosion produced a dull, heavy sound, and was not very extensively heard. As the report of the occurrence spread, the consternation and excitement thereby produced was very great. It is a long time since there has been anything like it in Worcester. The gas explosion last winter produced an excitement like this in some respects.

There were over one hundred men at work in the factory at the time, and a number of persons were at work upon the grounds outside. It seems almost miraculous that all escaped with their lives and that so few were injured. When the boiler rebounded across Lincoln street, two men were riding by in a carriage, and very narrowly escaped death. The following persons were injured: JOHN MORRISSEY, a middle-aged man, was at work outside, wheeling gravel, and was struck by the steampipe. He had two ribs broken, and was injured internally seriously, if not fatally. HENRY C. WILSON, the engineer, was badly bruised by the flying bricks, and considerably injured, but not seriously. MR. WILSON was not regularly at work, having been ill several days. He happened to come out yesterday, after dinner. The engine was in the care of another person. DANIEL GUILFORD was slightly injured by the flying bricks. WILLIAM PROUTY was bruised but not badly. He was about to enter the engine room, and was providentially delayed by some circumstance. PATRICK GUMFORTH was injured badly across the back, but not seriously.

Within a hundred feet of the place where the boiler struck the garden is the residence of WILLIAM A. WHEELER, Esq., that of MR. ARMSBY being not more then twenty feet distant. Had that ponderous mass of iron struck either of those elegant mansions, (and it might have fallen upon the roof of either,) the structure would have been crushed in a moment, and there could have been nothing but instant death for the inmates. The weight of the mass could not have been less than three and a half tons, and it had gone flying over the tops of building to the place where it fell.
The cause of the catastrophe is explained by the proprietors of the establishment in this way:

While some of the men were at work hoisting up wire, the rope became entangled around the shafting, rendering a stoppage of the engine necessary, with a closing of the safety-valve. The consequence was an increased pressure of the steam, which caused the explosion. This was the state of the case as they understood it. Perhaps some other explanation may be found on further inquiry. The boiler was strong, and had all the modern improvements. It was made by Thurston, Gardner, & Co., Providence, R. I., and cost about $1,000. It had been in use some five years, and the proprietors were about to exchange it for a new one. The engine had been stopped only some four or five minutes when the explosion occurred. The damage to the building, which is owned by Hon. Stephen Salisbury, is not for from five thousand dollars. The damage to the engine must be considerable.

Philadelphia Press Pennsylvania 1859-07-27