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The Great Molasses Flood

Molasses has been important in sugar and rum production since before the American Revolution. Ships arrive in Boston Harbor and the sticky liquid is pumped into a steel tank near the waterfront to be distilled later. The tank itself is only a few years old. There are a few leaks, and children sneak onto the property to scoop up the dark liquid. The owners have already re-caulked the tank twice, but is there really a danger? The metal flaking has severely weakened the steel structure, but Mr. Jell makes it clear that no more complaints will be entertained. "I don't know what you want me to do. The tank still stands." On January 15th, a little after noon, the rivets finally give way. Two million gallons of molasses pours into the street. It forms a wall 25 foot high and despite the old saying about molasses, it moves along fairly quickly. The distillery offices are flattened. Horses, dogs and people are swept away. Twenty-one people are killed and 150 people are injured. Years later, it will be said that in the summertime you can still smell the molasses. [1] [2]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
This event pushed the Paris Peace Conference and the League of Nations stories off the front page. What concerns us today are the government regulations that resulted from this disaster. Even though we have property rights, those rights are not absolute. Recently there was an uproar over EPA regulators hassling a guy who built a small dam and created a pond. The discussion centered on what a private citizen could do on his own property. Well, despite any movies to the contrary, he cannot launch a spacecraft from his barn simply because he wants to. A property owner has a duty to keep his neighbors safe from predictable dangers... like your dam breaking, or your molasses tank bursting. It doesn't take much to cause a lot of damage. However, government regulation tends to expand no matter how carefully we write a law, so regulations need careful pruning from time-to-time to limit their power. [3] [4]

The Red Scare Begins

"The needs of the many" seem to be a deep-seated desire to blow up rich people. Thirty-six mailbombs are sent to prominent professional and political leaders such as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller. The bombs take the form of gifts from Gimbel Brothers department store to arrive on May the 1st... May Day. The package is a brick-sized piece of wood inside a box with the label, "Open" on one side. If one is unfortunate enough to follow the directions, a spring sets off three blasting caps, a stick of dynamite and a vial of sulfuric acid. Given the vagaries of the postal system, some bombs arrive earlier than others. In one case an office staffer opens the wrong end of the box, and a vial of acid falls out. In another case the package is opened by the maid, blowing off her hands. Sixteen packages lack proper postage, and are sitting in the post office. The rest are intercepted. One bomb is addressed to the Attorney General of the United States Alexander Palmer. Thus begin the Palmer Raids to round up these subversive communist immigrants and hold them on Deer Island. The man assigned to carry out the raids is 24-year-old J. Edgar Hoover, and his newly formed Bureau of Investigation. Just the man for the job. [5] [6] [7]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Was there anything to be afraid of? Yes. The bombs were real and the bombings went on for several years. The bombers called themselves anarchists, so they were deported if it could be proven an immigrant was an anarchist. US immigration law didn't define the word "anarchist" except that if you called yourself one, you got the boot. But it is clear that the law meant terrorists, or anyone opposing the government. In the same year, the Supreme Court ruled that there is no right to yell "Fire" in a crowded movie theater. That was in reference to a socialist caught distributing pamphlets that urged military-aged men to dodge the draft. (He served 6 months in prison.) What we would define today as reasoned, loyal opposition, President Woodrow Wilson defined as treason. In other words, he took it personally, but this is what happens when the unfaithful utter impious words before their President. That is a terrible thing for me to say, but Wilson thought of himself as something close to a messiah... or higher. (Golly! I think I hate Wilson more than Glenn Beck does.) [8]

The League of Nations to Punish Germany

President Woodrow Wilson rushes to Paris to hammer out an agreement... that is... he uses a hammer to beat you senseless until you agree with him. This is not simply a peace treaty between the Allies and Germany. Wilson wants to redraw the borders of Europe, so that this kind of thing never happens again. His advisors are Colonel House who is an administrator, and a 12th century medieval historian named Charles Haskins. Why a 12th century historian? That was when Europe changed from battling war lords into an administrative honeycomb of arcane bureaucracies. Wilson sees World War 1 as a symptom of not enough government. He also wants a League of Nations that is more than talk. It should be the enforcement arm for the signatories. If anyone gets out of line, the League comes down on the offender good and hard. But instead of harmony and bliss, France wants to be paid back. In the end, Germany signs what is an open-ended agreement. The Treaty of Versailles calls for the admission of guilt, and to pay back the Allies. No amount is specified, which means, "everything you've got, forever and ever." Most people realize how unfair the treaty is. Once Wilson returns to the USA to begin his campaign to ratify the Treaty, he falls victim to a stroke. The US Senate fails to ratify, and Mrs. Wilson, a woman who never attended high school, is left to run the country. The stage is set for World War 2. [9] [10] [11]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
The only nation that had any money was the United States. The Europeans had borrowed heavily in order to win the war. Their economies should have collapsed long before this. In fact, Germany's Wiemar Republic was already experiencing high inflation. It didn't hit hyperinflation for a couple of years yet, but it was already eating up whatever savings the German people had. For the United States, the Roaring 20s was coming. But the Great Depression followed after that. Regarding the League of Nations, it's primary goal was to disarm the Axis Powers and then disarm the Allied Powers. Neither goal was achieved. So as World War 2 got started, the League fell apart. Its original objective was to at least reduce the arms nations had and thus prevent war. War came anyway. Game over. [12]

Notable Births

  • Balto, the sled dog (He will deliver medicine to an Alaskan town to fight an outbreak of diphtheria.) [13]
  • Isaac Asimov (Author/editor of science and sci-fi books such as "iRobot" and "Fantastic Voyage".) [14]
  • Pierre Trudeau (Canadian Prime Minister, media sensation and father of Justin, the current Prime Minister.) [15]
  • Liberace (Entertainer. He will win a libel lawsuit against the Daily Mirror for implying that he is a homosexual.) [16]
  • Madalyn Murray O'Hair (Atheist whose lawsuit will end Bible reading in government schools.) [17]
  • George Wallace (As governor he will "stand in the schoolhouse door" for state's rights... and segregation.) [18]
  • Jackie Robinson (The first man to break the "color barrier" in Major League Baseball.) [19]

In Other News

  • Charles Ponzi has a great idea for making money. His pyramid scheme will bilk small-time investors out of their life savings. [20]
  • The German Workers' Party is founded. (It's the Nazis!) War hero, Adolf Hitler, gives his first speech to the membership. [21]
  • The 1st US Army coast-to-coast convoy. They must use Indian trails. Lt. Col. Eisenhower dupes the convoy into believing that they are being attacked by Indians. Shots are fired. Thus is born the need for a US Highway system. [22]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1919, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Grossman, Lisa (February 13, 2010). "Studies of How Things Fall Apart May Lead to Materials That Don't". Science News (Society for Science and the Public) 177 (4): 18-21. http://www.austinlibrary.com:2138/stable/27760119. 
  2. Puleo, Stephen. Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Beacon Press. ISBN 0807050202. “Jell looked at the rusty steel flakes and had replied, "I don't know what you want me to do. The tank still stands."” 
  3. "Family Pond Boils at Center of a 'Regulatory War’ in Wyoming - The New York Times", September 18, 2015. Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “In a January 2014 violation notice, the agency said Mr. Johnson had violated the Clean Water Act by digging out Six Mile Creek and dumping in tons of river rocks without getting necessary federal permits. The agency ordered him to take steps to restore the creek under the supervision of environmental officials, or face accumulating fines of as much as $37,500 a day. Mr. Johnson refused.” 
  4. EPA Fines Wyoming Man $16 Million for Building a Pond on His Property - www.independentsentinel.com (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “The EPA claims the Johnsons built a dam on a creek without a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The EPA charges the pond discharges into other waterways. Johnson says it's a pond to attract wildlife which is exempt from Clean Water regulations.”
  5. Palmer Raids - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 29 March 2016. “The Palmer Raids were a series of raids by the United States Department of Justice intended to capture, arrest and deport radical leftists, especially anarchists, from the United States. The raids and arrests occurred in November 1919 and January 1920 under the leadership of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.”
  6. Trapped Under the Sea, Trapped Under the Sea: One Engineering Marvel, Five Men, and a Disaster Ten Miles into the Darkness, Crown Publishers. “In 1920 more than four hundred eastern European immigrants were rounded up and herded into a filthy, overcrowded prison on Deer Island. They had been caught up in the so-called Palmer Raids, part of the nation's first Red Scare, which took its name from Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. He had ordered the arrest of several thousand eastern European immigrants in about thirty cities on baseless charges that they were Communists and anarchists conspiring to bring down the government. In the chaos of the first few days of confinement on Deer Island, one prisoner hurled himself to his death, another was committed as insane, and several others attempted suicide.” 
  7. 1919 United States anarchist bombings - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “Opening one end of the box (the end marked 'open') released a coil spring that caused the acid to drip from its vial onto the blasting caps; the acid ate through the caps, igniting them and detonating the dynamite.”
  8. Charles Schenck - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “Schenck had been indicted and tried for distributing 15,000 subversive leaflets to prospective military draftees during World War I. The leaflets urged the potential draftees to refuse to serve, if drafted, on the grounds that military conscription constituted involuntary servitude, which is prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment. The Federal government held the position that Schenck's actions violated the Espionage Act of 1917.”
  9. Cantor, Norman F.. Inventing the Middle Ages: The Lives, Works, and Ideas of the Great Medievalists of the Twentieth Century. Quill/W. Morrow. ISBN 0688123023. “The story of Wilson's activity at the Paris Peace Conference is well known. He played a leading role in redrawing the map of Europe on the basis of the application of the principle of political nationhood for Central and Eastern European ethnic communities (for example, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) created out of the ruins of the Austrian and Russian empires. But he could not prevent the British and French leaders from imposing reparations on Germany that produced such resentment and economic crisis there as to cripple the new liberal Weimar Republic and pave the way for a violent reaction. Nor was the League of Nations Wilson devised an effective international body for collective peacekeeping, especially when the U.S. Senate rejected American membership in the League.” 
  10. Treaty of Versailles - World War I - HISTORY.com (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “The treaty, negotiated between January and June 1919 in Paris, was written by the Allies with almost no participation by the Germans. The negotiations revealed a split between the French, who wanted to dismember Germany to make it impossible for it to renew war with France, and the British and Americans, who did not want to create pretexts for a new war. The eventual treaty included fifteen parts and 440 articles. Part I created the Covenant of the New League of Nations, which Germany was not allowed to join until 1926. Part II specified Germany’s new boundaries,”
  11. Woodrow Wilson - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “Following his return from Europe, Wilson embarked on a nationwide tour in 1919 to campaign for the treaty, suffering a severe stroke. The treaty was met with serious concern by Senate Republicans, and Wilson rejected a compromise effort led by Henry Cabot Lodge, leading to the Senate's rejection of the treaty. Due to his stroke, Wilson secluded himself in the White House, disability having diminished his power and influence.”
  12. Edith Wilson - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “President Wilson suffered a severe stroke in October 1919. Edith Wilson began to screen all matters of state and decided which were important enough to bring to the bedridden president. In doing so, she de facto ran the executive branch of the government for the remainder of the president's second term, until March 1921.[1][2] She was the first First Lady to assume presidential functions.”
  13. Balto - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “Balto (1919 – March 14, 1933) was a black and white Siberian husky and sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome, in which diphtheria antitoxin was transported from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nenana, Alaska, by train and then to Nome by dog sled to combat an outbreak of the disease.”
  14. Isaac Asimov - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “Asimov was a prolific writer, and wrote or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”
  15. Trudeaumania - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “Many young people in Canada at this time, especially young women, were influenced by the 1960s counterculture and identified with Trudeau, an energetic nonconformist who was relatively young.”
  16. Liberace v Daily Mirror - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “Liberace v Daily Mirror is a 1959 English legal case in which the American entertainer Liberace sued the Daily Mirror columnist William Connor for libel after Connor, who while writing under the pen name Cassandra,[1] published an article strongly hinting that he was a homosexual. At the time homosexuality was illegal in the United Kingdom.[2] Liberace was successful in the action and was awarded £8000.[3] The award was the largest libel settlement for any case in British legal history.”
  17. Madalyn Murray O'Hair - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “O'Hair is best known for the Murray v. Curlett lawsuit, which led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling ending official Bible-reading in American public schools in 1963.”
  18. Stand in the Schoolhouse Door - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “The Stand in the Schoolhouse Door took place at Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama on June 11, 1963. George Wallace, the Democratic Governor of Alabama, in a symbolic attempt to keep his inaugural promise of 'segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever' and stop the desegregation of schools, stood at the door of the auditorium to try to block the entry of two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood.”
  19. Jackie Robinson - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “American professional baseball second baseman who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the modern era.”
  20. Charles Ponzi - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 15 December 2016. “During this time, in the summer of 1919, he decided to stop working for other people and set up his own small office on 27 School street, Boston, coming up with ideas and writing to people he knew in Europe trying to sell them as opportunities. A few weeks later, Ponzi received a letter from a company in Spain asking about the advertising catalog. Inside the envelope was an international reply coupon (IRC), something which he had never seen before. He asked about the IRC and found a weakness in the system which would, in theory, allow him to make money.”
  21. Adolf Hitler - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 20 December 2016. “Impressed with Hitler's oratorical skills, Drexler invited him to join the DAP. Hitler accepted on 12 September 1919,[76] becoming party member 555 (the party began counting membership at 500 to give the impression they were a much larger party).”
  22. Smith, Jean Edward. "Chapter Three: The Peacetime Army", Eisenhower: In War and Peace. Random House. “"We were a troupe of traveling clowns," he confessed fifty years later. "Perhaps our finest hour was in western Wyoming." Eisenhower and a companion convinced the convoy that an Indian attack was imminent. Sentinels were posted that evening, while Ike and his friend took concealed positions outside the perimeter and exchanged warrior yelps in the best tradition of the Old West. They were sufficiently convincing to induce a young officer on guard not only to discharge his weapon but report the encounter with hostile Indians to the War Department.” 

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