100 Years Ago in American Machinist

By Staff
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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

Evidence gathered during an investigation into the accident
showed that the cause of the explosion was the engine. A 28×60 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

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 3×4 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

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

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