The Enactment of the Ohio Boiler Law


| March/April 1974



Restored steam engines

Calvin Meier

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.