Disasters · New York

Boiler explosion at telephone company kills 21 and injured 95

October 3, 1962
New York, New York
A boiler in the New York Telephone Co. building explodes, killing 21 and injuring 95

While employees of the New York Telephone Co. ate lunch on October 3, the building’s boiler reached critical temperatures and exploded, killing 21 and wounding nearly 100. It was later found inspectors had neglected to properly inspect the boiler. A switch, normally meant to turn of heat to the boiler when it reached a certain temperature, had malfunctioned and allowed the boiler to continuously heat until it became superheated, and the resulting pressure ruptured the tank. (Superheated water is water heated under pressure allowing it to exceed its normal boiling point, with temperatures between 100°C/212°F and 374°C/705°F.)

Those responsible for inspecting the boilers were found responsible for the disaster, and the incident led to more thorough inspections as well as increased safety standards.

The Associated Press reported about the incident: “The explosion occurred at 12:07 p. m., when about 100 employes of the New York Telephone company’s uptown Manhattan building – most of them young women – were crowded in the basement lunchroom. Without warning, the boiler blew and erupted into the room with the force of a jet-propelled projectile. It smashed its way up through the ceiling to the first floor, bounced back into the lunchroom and finally roared through an opposite wall. It destroyed or killed or maimed everything in its path. Overturned desks, cabinets and bodies fell through the gaping hole left in the ceiling by the boiler’s mad course as the basement was engulfed in a deadly embrace of steam, smoke and flames.”

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