History’s Most Bizarre Food Disasters Explained

Let’s talk about some often-overlooked historical tidbits that remind us food can be large-scale terrifying, can wreak havoc on entire cities, and can claim lives on a massive scale. These are some of the world’s strangest food-related disasters – and some are more recent than you might expect.

The idea of a tank of molasses randomly bursting and flooding the streets with the sticky, sweet substance sounds pretty hilarious.

Truth is, it was nightmarish.

It happened in Boston on January 15, 1919, and it had been coming for a long time. A tank of molasses owned by US Industrial Alcohol had been leaking for a while. It held 2.5 million gallons, and the design was flawed from the beginning — it was never built strong enough, and collapse was inevitable.

Since molasses is a non-Newtonian liquid, that kind of quantity under that pressure would have behaved more like a mudslide or lava flow than molasses out of a bottle in your kitchen.

The 15-foot wave raced through the streets at around 35 miles per hour, and people were swept along with it. Those that survived suffered broken bones and disfiguring injuries and it was months before the bodies of the 21 dead were recovered. Cleanup efforts weren’t helped by the fact it was unseasonably warm when the tank burst, and the molasses hardened as temperatures plummeted.

History Today says it took 87,000 man-hours of work to haul, chisel, and saw away the hardened molasses that covered everything — including those who were unfortunate enough to be in the path of the tidal wave.