(This may seem a bit unrelated to pecans, but the reference was to pecan pie and its early relations, which were things like sugar, treacle and molasses pies. The following is the gist of several articles I read on the subject of the Great Molasses Disaster of 1919. I found the legal ramifications particularly interesting):
Speaking of molasses, you wouldn’t normally think of a sweetening agent as an instrument of catastrophe, would you? In the early 20th century, molasses was one of the most popular sweeteners, and was also used to make ethanol—in combination with grain alcohol, a useful product for the munitions manufacturers, who had prospered during World War I. It is thought that they were looking for new sources of income, and planned to use their stocks of molasses to cash in on the pre-prohibition rush to buy alcohol—another product in which molasses played a sizeable part.
In December of 1915, U.S. Industrial Alcohol constructed a large storage tank near to the Boston harbor, where ships arrived from Cuba, bearing the basic product, and to the railway, convenient for shipment to factories. It was a densely populated area, with immigrant housing, blacksmith shops, a slaughterhouse, and the trolley company’s freight sheds. The fifty-foot high tank had been hurriedly built, the construction overseen by a financial officer, with no engineering experience. He could not read the plans and sought no advice. Upon completion, the tank should have been tested for strength, by filling it with water, but, as a delivery of molasses was due, the test was never made. From the beginning, there were leaks. Local residents regularly scraped the leaking molasses into containers for home use, and rumbling noises came from inside the structure. The tank’s owner responded to warnings of structural problems by painting the tank brown.
On January 15, 1919, after several days of freezing and thawing temperatures, the tank burst, sending a 2.2 million gallon tsunami of molasses, weighing 26 million pounds, out into the neighborhood. The huge wave, traveling at 35 MPH, destroyed everything in its path, including the elevated train tracks. It was weeks before all the bodies were found, the cleanup took some 87,000 man-hours, and the harbor water was brown for a month.
The resulting legal case was the longest in Boston’s history. The judge, finding the company liable, took six years to reach his verdict, recommending about $300,000 in damages, equivalent to several million today. Significantly, from that time on, Boston city authorities began requiring any plans for construction projects be signed off by an engineer or architect and filed with the city’s building department. This practice soon spread throughout America.