Chicago, IL Swift and Co Plant Explosion, Nov 1902


Carelessness of a Swift Employee Responsible for Worst Accident Cattle District Has Known.

Chicago, November 29 – With a deafening report a boiler in Swift & Co.'s plant exploded shortly after 10 o'clock this morning. Thirteen lives were sacrificed and scores of employees, visitors and others were injured. Huge boilers were sent through the roof of the structure and hurled hundreds of feet.
Nobody within the boiler room survived to tell the story of the accident, and it may never be known what caused the explosion. A careful investigation today, however, convinced the experts that the explosion was the result of carelessness on the part of an employee, whose own life was also sacrificed. Five minutes after the explosion nothing of the building but a pile of twisted iron, bricks and mortar remained.
Sheets of flame sprang from the ruins and the spectators realized that it would be impossible to save the lives of those caught in the wreck. The explosion was of such force that adjoining buildings were wrecked, torn and twisted like toys. Men, women and boys at work in adjoining departments were hurled through windows to the ground below. Many of them escaped with slight bruises, but most of the victims were hurt to such an extent that it was necessary to remove them to hospitals. Others were taken to their homes.
The list of dead compiled by the police and officers of the company follows:
H. ARNOLD, colored, taken to Mercy Hospital, where he died;
JAMES OWENS, colored;
A. RACHUG, sewer digger;
SIMEON TATE, colored, fireman;
W. O. O'CONNOR, sewer digger;
E. WRIGHT, colored, fireman;
W. PARKS, foreman;
THOMAS HOLMES, engineer;
CHARLES WEBB, colored, fireman;
JOHN HENRY, colored, fireman;
ALBERT M. BUSHNELL, purchasing agent;
________ CUBAT, millwright, died at Mercy Hospital;
________ SCHULTZ, millwright.
The injured are: N. DEVOORE, scalp wound; F. FRANCIS, contusion of right arm; E. MINNICK, 14 years old, messenger boy, scalded, may die; M. T. ASH, fractured leg and scalp wound; J. FRANKS, bruised and burned; R. VENABLE, burned and bruised; J. CHANDLER, scalp wound and burned; W. T. WELLS, fractured leg; N. F. OLIVER, burned about the face and body; J. D. COOPER, burned about the arms, face and body; E. OLSEN, messenger, burned about the legs and chest; J. D. OGDEN, burned about the body; MOSES BERRYMAN, badly burned; J. McARDLE, badly burned; LOUIS ZIERK, struck by flying bricks; HERMAN PRELASIE, eye knocked out; JOHN WALSH, struck by flying bricks; JAMES M. WALSCH, hit by debris; EDWARD JONES, injured by flying bricks; RICHARD HALLOWAY, struck by flying bricks; PETER STEINBANK, Clinton, Ia., struck by falling bricks; GEORGE RYAN, scalded by escaping steam; MISS ELIZABETH CULLEN, knocked down and crushed in the rush from the building; NATHAN LYNCH, cut on the head; A. ZERMAN, leg broken in jumping from the second story.
It was rumored that from fifty to 100 persons had been caught in the wrecked building. This report caused great excitement and repeated calls were sent for police and ambulances. A dozen patrol wagons and as many ambulances were sent from all parts of the city. Extra calls for fire engines followed and soon the flames were being fought from every side.
While the fire was still burning police, firemen and employees of the packing firms began digging in the ruins. Soon the mangled remains of a man were discovered. At the same time other rescuers were digging with desperation to rescue several victims, who were still alive. Bodies, torn, bruised or mangled were taken from the ruins and sent to the morgue. A boy, scalded from head to foot and bleeding from cuts and bruises, staggered toward the office of General Superintendent C. O. Young. The boy was Mr. Young's personal messenger. The lad, however, had been so badly disfigured that Mr. Young did not recognize him.
Many theories were advanced as to the responsibility for the disaster. One inspector declared that the explosion had been caused by cold water injected into the boiler, but a majority of the investigators held the opinion that the catastrophe had been caused by low water. Nothing definite was learned, however, and as all the men in the boiler room were killed it is not likely the cause of the accident will ever be known.
It is thought that the loss to Swift and Co. will not amount to more than $50,000. The officers of the company declare that this will cover the damage. The building in which the boilers were located, was the only structure to be entirely destroyed, and it was a small brick building one story high. The store house, which stood close to the boiler house, was badly damaged, a portion of its walls being torn down, but it is only two stories high. With the exception of the demolished boiler house there is no damage that cannot be repaired within ten days.

Brooklyn Eagle New York 1902-11-30