Reprinted with permission from American Machinist, 1996. A Penton publication. Sent to us by Allen C. Gruver, 1450 Beaver Valley Pike, Willow Street, Pennsylvania 17584
In the July 2, 1896 issue of American Machinist, an article, 'A Fly Wheel Explosion' described an accident at the mill of the American Wire Company, Cleveland. The explosion was so massive, a correspondent for the magazine immediately wired reports of the accident back to the editors to get the news out to the readers.
At midnight, a 50,000 lb. flywheel burst while it was on a steam engine running the billet train of the continuous rod mill. The wheel was 24 feet in diameter and four feet wide and ran at 75 rpm. The explosion was so powerful, all the electric wires in the plant broke almost simultaneously, leaving everyone in total darkness.
Evidence gathered during an investigation into the accident showed that the cause of the explosion was the engine. A 28x60 inch Harris Corliss engine was running faster than normal, which placed a heavy stress on the governor belt.
An engineer attempted to save the flywheel by closing the throttle. But, he could not act fast enough to keep the belt from breaking. The engine ran out of control, eventually destroying the flywheel.
Sections of the flywheel flew far in many directions. The first parts dropped into a pit, tearing up the floor and knocking the engineer into the basement. He was almost senseless from a blow in the side. However, a downpour of cold water from a broken pipe revived him. He struggled through the debris to a trap door 25 feet away and crawled another 40 feet to a boiler to try to close the crown valves. A rescue crew found him in the boiler room in an exhausted condition, but not seriously hurt.
The iron roof directly above the engine was completely wrecked. Large 3x4 inch angles of steel were torn from their fastenings and carried 550 feet by a piece of the rim weighing 1,300 lb. A 700 lb. section landed on a piece of 18 inch wrought-iron pipe, crushing it together. Another piece of about 300 lb. flew 680 feet, embedding itself in the bottom of Lake Erie. One piece of the rim, weighing 1,200 lb., broke through a brick wall and landed at the feet of the night machinist.
Some pieces weighing 1,500 lb. pierced the roof and crashed down into the main mill building near several men working at their machines.
The steam engine also suffered damage while it pounded back and forth after the wheel shattered. The crank-end pillow-block broke off at the foot, the center leg under the bed cracked into several pieces, both legs under the cylinder collapsed, and the throttle shook apart. Furthermore, the foundation was badly cracked. An estimate of the repairs was $10,000