The Enactment of the Ohio Boiler Law

Restored steam engines

Calvin Meier

Content Tools

156 West High Street, New Concord, Ohio 43762

On May 17, 1910 the city of Canton, Ohio and its surroundings were plunged into agonizing grief and mourning as the result of one of the most devastating boiler explosions in the history of the nation. It occurred at two-thirty during the afternoon of May 17, 1910 at the plant of the American Sheet and Tin Plate Company on South Harrison Avenue in that city. Reports on the number of men killed ranged from fifteen to seventeen. In reporting that disaster one of the Canton newspapers carried in bold letters the following headline, 'Not since the death of president McKinley has Canton mourned as it does today!'

Three of the boilers let loose simultaneously. The other four were knocked from their foundations by the force of the explosion. The seven boilers rated as twelve hundred horsepower were located in an L shaped addition near the middle of the main mill. The enormous impact of that terrific explosion defies adequate description as well as one's imagination.

More than one hundred men were in the mill at the time of the explosion. Bodies were strewn over the territory for many yards surrounding the plant. One body was thrown by the force of the explosion through the side of the home of Henry Ruke, 1936 Lewis Avenue which was a square and a half away from the wrecked plant. According to the newspaper accounts the body passed through the house, came out on the other side and landed on a fence which was knocked down. Mr. Houston, the night superintendent of the plant, stated that at four o'clock of that day he had personal knowledge that seventeen men were dead. George Ream who operated a barber shop within close proximity of the plant was one of the first rescuers. He helped to carry away fifteen dead bodies. Another body was found at the plant of the Timpken Bearing and Axle Company which was a half mile away from the scene of the explosion. A human hand crashed through a window of the office building which was seventy-five feet away from the explosion. Perhaps miraculously members of the office force escaped injury. Fifty men were injured and many of them were lying about on the porches of nearby residences or were hurried to the hospitals in ambulances or automobiles. Every ambulance in the city was busy during the hours following the explosion. During the excitement it was thought that many of the men were buried in the debris which caught fire immediately after the explosion. The fire department arrived upon the scene and within a relatively brief period of time extinguished the fire. It was the most ghastly spectacle which Canton had ever witnessed.

The mill was almost a complete wreck with the refuse from the plant scattered thereabouts and for long distances. The shell of the factory was blown 600 feet to the north. The head of one of the boilers was blown many feet across the plant. A piece of one of the boilers estimated to have weighed several tons was carried by the force of the explosion and landed in the yards of the Timpken works where it was embedded in the earth in an upright position. A boiler tube was found sticking upright in the ground quite a distance from the scene of the explosion. The small office building already mentioned which faced Harrison Avenue was shaken and several of the windows were broken. The Dueber-Hampden watch factory Was located on the west side of the city a long distance from the scene of the explosion. Employees of the watch factory stated that the explosion caused the windows in the buildings of their plant to rattle. Of course that terrific explosion was heard for many miles. An hour after the catastrophe citizens flocked to the scene by the thousands during a heavy downpour of rain. During the afternoon and evening of May 17, 1910 about 10,000 people visited the wrecked plant.

The Company paid all of the hospital and physicians expenses which resulted from the care of those who were injured. It also promised to provide proper compensation and to make ample provision for the families of the dead. Compensation was given on the basis of the number of children in each family.

Mr. C. C. Rice who was the superintendent of the plant was out of the city on the day of the explosion. During his abscence, Howard Rex, the assistant superintendent was in charge of the plant at the time of the explosion.

A number of explanations were expressed by several competent individuals in an effort to establish the cause of the boiler explosion: Mr. Rice stated that the boilers were in perfect condition. They were new throughout having been installed during the fall of 1909 preceding the explosion. One person claimed that the safety valve on one of the boilers was out of order.

Mr. Steele testified in a hearing held before coroner Harry A. March that he had installed the boilers of the wrecked plant during the fall of 1909 and that they were in good condition. He stated that the day before the accident one of the boilers was not working right. He said, 'The check valve of boiler No. 2 was out of order. The check valve was on the feed line which gives the boiler its water supply and this was out of order. I ordered the fires put out until repairs would be made. Otto Wohlgomuth, who was killed, and myself made the repairs. I recommended the boiler for use Tuesday afternoon at one o'clock. I gave orders to the head fireman, Louis Hughes, to fire up when there were two gauges of water.

Mr. Monnet who examined the boilers stated that 'The metal was unusually good in every instance, had shown no signs of crystallization or old age, or limitations, defects nor in the meantime developing old age.

In no instance was the plate itself ruptured indicating that the plate was stronger than the joint itself. The rivets, stay bolts, longitudinal seams were uniformly sheared, as well as were the rivets or amvellineum seams around each head. The plates show no signs whatever of overheating and therefore low water could have no part in the disaster. No. 2 boiler had been out during the night before and was being fired up since power was badly needed in the operation of the mill and it is my belief that the hurried cutting in the boiler was the immediate cause of the explosion.'

Mr. Allen, another boiler expert, calculated that it must have taken a force of 5,143,272 pounds to cause the explosion. He stated that he made his calculation upon the basis that the 248 rivets in the boiler were in good condition and that they had a resisting power of 40,000 pounds to the square inch.

Mr. Whelon, who inspected the boilers, stated that low water supply was the cause of the explosion. 'The direct cause of the explosion' he declared 'was what is technically known as a 'Water Hammer' produced by the sudden contact of a cold stream of water with the steam in the boiler.' He testified that it was his belief that when the fireman saw that the water supply was running low he immediately turned on the cold water from the pump to replenish it and the explosion was the consequence.

Aside from the opinions expressed concerning the boilers, the plant was characterized by others as 'a lot of junk'. Mr. Lewis who was vice-president of the Amalgamated Iron, Steele and Tin works stated that 'The Canton plant has long been recognized as a 'scrap house'. The machinery has been allowed to lay there without attention while the plant has been idle which is much of the time. Other second hand machinery has been installed at different times.'

Two weeks prior to the explosion an engine cylinder head was blown out which wrecked the engine and caused the mill to be closed down for several days. Whether the above claims were typical of the practice of the Company can not be verified with any assurance of accuracy.

Even with the passing of the years, that disaster and tragedy still lingers vividly in the memory of those who were children at that time and who lived in Canton and the neighboring communities. No disaster of such magnitude had befallen the city prior to or since, that fateful day of May 17, 1910. There is little wonder then that an aroused public clamored for the enactment of legislation which would require the establishment of boiler standards and the inspection of all boilers in use in the state of Ohio.

In 1910 Massachusetts had the most rigid boiler inspection law in the country. The Massachusetts law was enacted following a boiler explosion at Brockton which cost thirty lives. Unfortunately, all too often, it is only when a disaster of great magnitude strikes a community that an acquisent public is aroused out of its lethargy and demands the enactment of measures to prevent the recurrence of such disasters.

One other factor was significant in bringing influence and pressure to bear upon members of the Ohio General Assembly to enact the Ohio boiler code. It was claimed that Ohio became the dumping ground for old defective boilers, the use of which was prohibited in Indiana and other states which had boiler inspection laws. Those old boilers were repainted and given a coat of tar which made them appear as if they were safe. Prior to the adoption of the Ohio law, the record for the immediate period preceding 1911 shows that a boiler explosion was occurring in the United States on an average of one every day. At all events, this was the nature of the situation and the climate which impelled the General Assembly of Ohio to enact its first boiler law.

The organization of steam engineers in Ohio had attempted for a number of years to have a law enacted requiring the inspection of all boilers in use in the state. At the session of the Legislature preceding the Canton disaster, two bills were introduced, but they were met with too much opposition so that those who sponsored that legislation were unsuccessful in their efforts.

Even prior to the Canton tragedy and in spite of the fact that Ohio had no boiler inspection law, yet there were many of the reputable companies in the state using or building boilers which had taken precautionary measures to insure the safety of their boilers. One of those companies was the Russell & Co. of Massillon, Ohio. Mr. Heggen who was the superintendent of the Russell & Co. stated that he was in favor of legislation requiring the inspection of all boilers in use in the state. However, he pointed out and warned that a program of boiler inspection would require a large number of inspectors since there were a large number of boilers in use throughout the state. Then too, most of the boilers were in use during the week so that the inspections would of necessity have to be done during the end of the week. Furthermore, Mr. Heggen stated that the inspection of a boiler required time. The inspector should get inside of the boiler to discover and determine the existing conditions inside of the boiler.

Finally Mr. Heggen stated that at the Russell & Co. they inspected their boilers every two weeks. In addition to their own inspections, the insurance companies with whom they held insurance also inspected their boilers. So it appears to be an indisputable fact that men of good will who held positions of responsibility in the companies and who cared about the safety of their employees were in the foreground in advocating the enactment of the Ohio boiler code.

Two of the men who sponsored the enactment of the original Ohio boiler code were W. C. Connelly and Isaac Harter, Jr. More than any other two persons, they exerted a tremendous influence upon its enactment.

Mr. Connelly was for many years a boiler builder in the city of Columbus, Ohio. He served the Industrial Commission of Ohio in an advisory capacity for forty-eight years. It was he who provided the writer with original copies of the boiler laws enacted by the Ohio General Assembly, as well as other materials concerning the code and the circumstances surrounding their enactment, as well as the administration and enforcement of the rules set up under its provisions. So the writer is deeply indebted to Mr. Connelly and expresses his sincere appreciation for placing those materials at his disposal.2

Isaac Harter, Jr. was Head of the Boiler Department of the Aultman & Taylor Machinery Company for a number of years. Shortly after that Company sold its water-tube boiler business in 1905 to the Sterling Company in Barberton he joined that Company.

In 1919-1920 the Sterling Company was absorbed by the Babcock and Wilcox Company and Mr. Harter spent the remainder of his life with that Company serving as its vice-president and president. He also served as a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and had to his credit sixty patents in the area of steam registered in the United States Patent Office. It is clear that those two men were competent and possessed an enormous wealth of practical knowledge concerning boilers. Ohio was indeed most fortunate to have had the council and advice of such preeminently qualified men who sponsored the legislation which brought the first Ohio boiler law into existence. That their work was well done is borne out by the fact that many of the provisions of that first law are contained within and still in force in the current Ohio boiler law and code.3 The original Ohio boiler law was entitled, An act providing for the inspection of steam boilers.' It was passed on May 31, 1911, signed by the Speaker of the House, Hugh L. Nichols and the President of the Senate. It was approved by Governor Judson Harmon on June 14, 1911 and became effective January 1, 1912.

Section 2 of that act states that, 'On and after January 1, 1912 all steam boilers and their appurtances, except boilers of railroad locomotives, portable boilers used in pumping, heating, steaming and drilling in the open field for water, gas and oil and portable boilers used for agricultural purposes and construction of and repairs to public roads, railroads and bridges, boilers on automobiles, boilers of steam fire engines brought into the state for temporary use in time of emergency for the purpose of checking conflagrations, boilers carrying less than fifteen pounds per square inch which are equipped with safety devices approved by the board of boiler rules under the jurisdiction of the United States, shall be thoroughly inspected, internally and externally, and under operating conditions at intervals of not more than a year and shall not be operated under pressures in excess of safe working pressures stated in the certificate of inspection hereinafter mentioned. And shall be equipped with such appliances to insure safety of operation as shall be prescribed by the board of boiler rules.'

Section 3 of the act set forth the responsibilities and duties of the board of boiler rules as follows: 'It shall be the duty of the Board of Boiler Rules to formulate rules for the construction, installation, inspection and operation of steam boilers and for ascertaining the safe working pressure to be carried on such boilers, to prescribe tests, if deemed necessary to ascertain the qualities of materials used in the construction of boilers, to formulate rules regulating the construction and sizes of safety valves for boilers of different sizes and pressures for construction, use and location of fusible plugs, appliances for indicating the pressure of steam and level of water in the boiler and such other appliances as the Board may deem necessary to safety in operating steam boilers and to examine applicants for certificates as boiler inspectors as herein provided.'

Section 6 of that act provided that, 'Changes in the rules which affect construction of new boilers shall take effect six months after the approval of the same by the Governor, provided however, that the Board may, upon request, permit the application of such changes in, or in additions to boilers manufactured or installed during the said six months.'

It should be noted that section 2 of the act provided for exceptions to the requirements as set forth in the legislation. However, later legislation mandated the inspection of several of the items which were excluded from inspection by the act of 1911. It should be also be observed that in accordance with section 6 of the act changes in the boiler rules were to take effect six months after those changes had been approved by the Governor. One example of the application of the phase of the legislation was that rule established by the Board of Boiler Rules which concerned butt strap boilers. Beginning with July 1, 1912 all boilers on traction engines were required to have butt strap boilers. Those companies which desired to build butt strap boilers prior to July 1, 1912 were granted permission to build them. On the other hand, the companies were also granted permission to complete the building of lap seam boilers already under way and to sell those which were completed, but after July 1, 1912 it became illegal to build lap seam boilers. Moreover, all engines and boilers built outside of the state and shipped into the state underwent inspection and were required to comply with the Ohio boiler laws and rules.

Section 11 of the law provided that, 'Applications  for examination as an inspector of steam boilers shall be in writing, accompanied by a fee of ten dollars, upon a blank to be furnished by the chief inspector of steam boilers, stating the school education of the applicant, a list of his employers, his period of employment and the position held with each. He shall also submit a letter certifying to his character and experience.'

Section 22 of the act delineated the salaries of the members of the Board of Boiler Rules and others involved in carrying out the several provisions of the law. It provided that each member of the Board of Boiler Rules was to receive an annual salary of $1,000.00 and the clerk of the board was to receive an annual salary of $1,800.00. The chief examiner of steam engines was to receive for his services as Chairman of the Board of Boiler Rules and Chief Inspector of steam boilers an additional salary of $1,000.00 which made his total annual salary $3,000.00. The Assistant Chief Inspector's salary was fixed at $3,000.00. Each of the inspectors provided for in the act received an annual salary of $1,800.00. Salaries of the office employees were fixed by the Board of Boiler Rules with the approval of the Governor. The law did not stipulate the number of members which constituted the Board of Boiler Rules nor did it indicate the number of inspectors to be employed. The latter figure was no doubt determined by the demand for boiler inspections.4

If the salaries designated in the law are combined plus the salary of one inspector the total outlay amounted to $11,600.00. Of course this does not include the salaries of the office employees or the total outlay for the salaries of all of the inspectors, yet even on the basis of the figures available the total outlay as provided by the law reached a sizeable sum of money. This is especially true when recognition is given to the fact that a dollar during 1911-1912 was far more valuable than it is today. Nevertheless, it is probably fair to say that the men who were influential in the promotion of the enactment of the Ohio boiler law were determined that competent and knowledgeable men be employed to execute the provisions of the legislation. Usually men of that caliber can be persuaded to assume the responsibilities involved in such positions only when adequate salaries are available. Furthermore, the leadership in the state was keenly aware of the impact of the Canton disaster as well as the public demand that legislative action be taken to prevent the recurrence of an accident of such magnitude along with the great loss of life. So when consideration is given to all of the aspects involved, it is altogether reasonable to surmise that the money allocated to carry out the provisions of the law was a wise expenditure of public funds. Then too, this was supported by the firm belief and hope of those who were responsible for the enactment of the legislation that the danger of boiler explosions would be minimized and even if only one life were saved the outlay of money would be warranted. At any rate, the reduction in the number of boiler explosions since the passage of that first boiler law constitutes ample evidence that the law in large measure has accomplished its purpose.

These then are the chief features of the Ohio boiler law enacted during 1911. In some respects it possessed the earmarks of an enabling act in that it delegated authority and empowered the Board of Boiler Rules to discharge specific duties and responsibilities which would assure safety in the operation of boilers in the state of Ohio. The rules established and promulgated by the Board of Boiler Rules and its successors in compliance with the statutes has become known as the Ohio boiler code. As the several bodies established by the legislature gained experience in the administration of the laws, new rules and regulations were added in order to meet the demands of changing conditions.

On March 12, 1913 there followed another act which created the Industrial Commission of Ohio. By that act all powers and duties which had been invested in. the Department of Board of Boiler Rules were transferred to the Industrial Commission of Ohio. Following the enactment of that law the Board of Boiler Rules was abolished and after March 12, 1913 had no legal existence.

Beginning with March 12, 1913 and continuing until July 16, 1965 the Industrial Commission of Ohio was authorized and empowered by Section 871-14 of the General Code to employ advisors. In consequence thereof, it was found necessary to employ former members of the Board of Boiler Rules as a Board of Boiler Deputies. Their function was to advise the Industrial Commission on matters pertaining to boiler and vessel construction.

Before the amendments were called for in the proposed Bill Number 636 Sec. 4104.02 item D were accepted, they were advertised in the newspapers throughout the state of Ohio. A copy of that amendment was filed with the Secretary of State and a public hearing was held. On February 26. 1965 the Board of Boiler Deputies received a copy of some fifteen interpretations from the A.S.M.E. boiler code committee. Before those amendments were adopted, they also were advertised and a public hearing was held concerning them.

Finally, on July. 16, 1965 Governor James A. Rhodes signed into law an act which provided for the establishment of the Industrial Relations Board. That was House Bill No. 636. It removed from the Industrial Commission of Ohio such powers and duties that it had for fifty-three years relating to the rules covering the construction of boiler and pressure vessels and vested those powers and duties in the Board of Building Standards. The Industrial Relations Board or the Board of Public Appeals consists of three members appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the Senate for four-year terms.

It is generally recognized that a newly enacted law often contains deficiencies and imperfections due largely to the inability of legislators to foresee all of the contingencies which may arise. Consequently, it becomes necessary to bring laws up to date in order to meet the ever

changing conditions. As already indicated, the Ohio laws covering the construction and inspection of boilers have been altered whenever merited, by changing circumstances or conditions. It is fair to state that the Ohio boiler law and code have been well administered and effectively enforced. It has functioned well in achieving the goal of safety in the operation of boilers in the state of Ohio. Of course, it is true that occasionally boiler inspectors have been appointed whose qualifications left much to be desired, yet on the other hand it is to the credit of most of the inspectors that they have been well qualified to perform their duties. They have also been men who were conscientious in the discharge of their duties, helpful and courteous in their contacts with users of boilers and engines. Finally it is worth noting that many of the features of the Ohio boiler law and code have been incorporated into the boiler laws of other states.