The Enactment of the Ohio Boiler Law

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Some of the nicely restored steam engines at Mount Pleasant, Iowa in 1973 at Midwest Old Settlers & Threshers Association Inc. Reunion. Courtesy of Calvin Meier, Kahoka, Missouri 63445
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Pictured is a 22 HP - 15 ton Minneapolis steam tractor. The tractor is owned by Bob Cardwell, Fresno, California and riding with him is his daughter, Barbara. This tractor was entered in three parades in the fall of 1973. The tractor received two, first p

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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