Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Day Rochester Exploded

Today marks the anniversary of the Rochester Naphtha Explosions of 1887. On the morning of December 21, 1887, the Vacuum Oil Works company in Rochester, New York attempted an underground transfer of 14,000 gallons of naphtha gas to the Municipal Gas Company. The gas failed to arrive at its intended location. Unbeknownst to anyone, recent sewer construction had ruptured the pipeline in question.
14,000 gallons of volatile naphtha gas flowed out into sewers of Rochester and made its way toward the industrial district of Browns Race. Situated along Rochester's High Falls, Brown's race had a number of mills and factories that benefited from proximity to the Genessee River. Throughout the day, laborers complained about smelling gas in a few different workplaces in Browns Race. The workers were told to stop complaining and return to their jobs.

That afternoon, after hours of gas and vapor build up, something inside a factory on Platt Street ignited the naphtha and the factory exploded. This in turn ignited the gas in the sewers, setting off a chain reaction of explosions that lasted for hours. More factories exploded and/or caught on fire and sections of street were blown skyward. The scene was one of absolute chaos and confusion. To some it may have seemed like the end of the world.

Pay a visit to Browns Race to learn more about the horrific events of December 21, 1887.

-Tom G

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