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The Worst Industrial Accidents in U.S. History

industrial fire

From factory fires to oil well explosions, the United States has seen its fair share of major industrial disasters. Unfortunately, plenty of accidents still occur in a variety of industries, particularly construction. To understand the kinds of accidents we deal with now, it helps to take a look at history.

Fires, Floods, Explosions, and More

According to the “Deadliest Workplace Accidents” article published by PBS and the American Experience, fires are a leading case of industrial accidents. Perhaps the most famous is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which killed 146 workers on March 25, 1911.

The Early 1900s

Long before the Triangle Shirtwaist fire (in 1860), however, a factory collapse in Lawrence, Massachusetts was the biggest industrial disaster the country had seen. It killed 145 workers and injured another 166 at the Pemberton Mill cotton goods factory. Throughout the early 1900s, several more fires, collapses, and mining accidents occurred.

In 1900, for instance, an accidental mining explosion cost 200 miners their lives in Scofield, Utah, and in 1902, a buildup of methane gas caused an explosion that killed 184 men and boys, In 1902, a boiler explosion also caused the four-story R.B. Grover shoe factory to collapse, killing 58 and injuring 150 others.

One of the strangest industrial accidents in our nation’s history is the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, which occurred when a storage tank burst at Purity Distilling Company, sending a wave of molasses through the streets of Boston at 35 miles per hour and causing 21 deaths and 150 injuries.

The Mid 1900s

Fires, floods, building collapses, and fatal explosions plagued the United States through the 1920s. In the 1930s, at least 96 construction workers lost their lives while building the Hoover Dam and 7 miners were killed in an elevator accident in Wilkes-Bar, Pennsylvania.

You might think the tragedies slowed down after this, but the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) did not emerge until 1970. Mining, dam construction, and power plants caused countless additional injuries and deaths between 1940 and 1970.


Even after OSHA began to regulate workplace safety and health, the United States saw some truly horrendous accidents. In 1972, a federal mine inspector declared a dam in Logan County, West Virginia to be “satisfactory” just 4 days before it burst. The incident released 175 million gallons of wastewater, 125 people died, and 4,000 lost their homes.

In 1978, a partially constructed cooling tower at a coal power plant in West Virginia collapsed, sending 51 men to their deaths.

In the 1980s, oil began replacing coal, and the construction and oil industries became leading sites for industrial accidents. Twenty-eight construction workers lost their lives when a partially constructed apartment in Bridgeport, Connecticut collapsed in 1987, and the very next year an oil refinery accident in Louisiana killed 7 workers and left 42 others injured.

Fortunately, industrial accidents seemed to become fewer and farther between after a string of tragedies in the late 1980s. Still, some of the largest industrial accidents happened in the 2000s.

The 2000s

On March 23, 2005, a gas explosion at a British Petroleum oil refinery caused 15 deaths, over 170 injuries, and the infamous B.P. oil spill. Mine explosions continued to take lives in 2006 and 2008, and another powerplant explosion killed 6 and injured 12 others in Middletown Connecticut in 2010. Nevertheless, the 2010 incident most people remember is the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 workers and resulted in the worst oil spill in U.S. History.

While the PBS article ends in 2011, we know workplace disasters continue to occur. Even incidents that result in one death or injury are preventable and unacceptable.

If you have suffered a personal disaster, especially one in the construction industry, the Law Offices of Charles R. Gueli is here to help. Attorney Gueli has over 2 decades of relevant legal experience and can guide you through both the aftermath of construction accidents and the legal process.

Call Attorney Gueli 24/7 at (516) 628-6402 or contact our firm online for a free consultation.

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