Nitroglycerin Explosion of 1927

It was a seemingly normal Thursday morning on June 9, 1927 in the Lick Hill village just outside of the city of Butler, Pennsylvania. The relative calm of the summer morning was suddenly shattered, however, when a truck carrying nitroglycerin destined for oil well drilling operations exploded while the truck was leaving the main highway and entering a side road; witnesses later reported they saw the truck’s tire drop into a large pothole. The explosion killed two men, Frank H. Greer and Richard Coxsan, both of Rouseville and left at least twenty others injured. According to a Butler Eagle report, it was “the worst scene of destruction ever seen in Butler County.”

The truck was driven by workers of the Bowers Torpedo Company, who were delivering the nitroglycerin to one of their sister companies in the Producers Torpedo Company. Nitroglycerin is a highly volatile explosive liquid that was used for efficiency in oil well drilling during the early 1900s. The process used a “torpedo," invented in 1865 by Colonel E.A.L. Roberts, in order to blow rocks and debris out of the way of the drill. Explosions during the transport of nitroglycerin were very common - so common, in fact, that many other states had already banned the transportation of the substance.

The explosion left a hole at least eight feet deep and fourteen feet wide in the road and knocked all nearby power lines down. The blast severely damaged 15-20 homes in the area and left nearly twenty people injured. The majority of the people injured in the incident were people who lived in the homes that were destroyed by the blast. The home nearest the blast, the Edward Rettig residence, was completely flattened in the explosion.The blast was so massive that people two miles away in the city of Butler heard and felt it.

Village physicians in Lick Hill, quickly overwhelmed by the number of injuries and with no way to call for backup due to the damaged phone systems, were relieved when doctors from Butler who felt the blast came to assist them. A Red Cross Relief Fund was set up and accumulated over $1,400 dollars in donations for the affected families. The workers even asked for donations from all of the sightseers drawn by the blast. Along with personal donations, the Harris Theater in Butler secured 8 separate Vaudeville acts for a benefit show where all of the money raised would be donated to the fund. The event raised nearly $800 and the owner of the Theater even donated $100.

Immediately after the explosion, the call for more restrictions on nitro transportation was set to get answered when city council had a meeting on Monday, June 13. The pre-existing ordinance in place was a ban on transportation through the city with a penalty of $500. The new ordinance required all transport vehicles carrying nitroglycerin to submit to a thorough inspection before entering the city, they had to follow a police escort, and they were required to have clear markings on their trucks; otherwise they would have to pay a $1,000 fine.

Tragedy can strike anywhere, and on that particular Thursday morning, Butler County felt the force of the destruction. The explosion destroyed the livelihood of the two workers and the nearby families. The village of Lick Hill was left partially flattened and many people were left homeless following this horrific accident.

Images

Damaged Home and Powerlines

Damaged Home and Powerlines

A family home that was damaged by the nitroglycerin explosion that occurred on Lick Hill in Butler County on June 9, 1927. The explosion caused immense damage to this home and about twenty others. This picture also shows the phone and telegraph wires that were damaged in the blast that added to the difficulty of calling for help. | Source: Arthur and Betty Carney View File Details Page

Drawn to the Explosion

Drawn to the Explosion

Groups of people came out to Lick Hill in Butler County to see the damage from the explosion on June 9, 1927. Many people also joined in to help with the cleaning process and some donated money to the Red Cross Relief Fund. | Source: Arthur and Betty Carney View File Details Page

Crowd Observations

Crowd Observations

Groups of people, volunteers and civilians, observe the damage and begin clean up outside a home in Lick Hill that was damaged from the nitroglycerin explosion. People came to the relief of over twenty residents of the little village that were injured following the horrific accident. | Source: Arthur and Betty Carney View File Details Page

Instant Attraction

Instant Attraction

Many people, civilians and medical personnel, rushed to the scene of the biggest explosion ever felt around the city of Butler. Damaged phone lines made it difficult to request help to come to the village of Lick Hill but the blast itself that was felt for miles around gave enough reason for people to make their way out. | Source: Arthur and Betty Carney View File Details Page

The Walter's Family Home

The Walter's Family Home

The home of Kenneth Walter was severely damaged following the explosion of a nitroglycerin truck that left the village of Lick Hill in distress on June 9, 1927. His wife and children were some of the twenty people that were injured as a result of the explosion. The house was damaged by debris and began to collapse. | Source: Arthur and Betty Carney View File Details Page

Cooper Family Home

Cooper Family Home

One of the damaged homes following the 1927 explosion in Lick Hill that was wrecked by the debris and material sent through the air. The Cooper family home sat a good distance from the blast but the house still sustained mass amounts of damaged that rendered the family homeless for a short time. | Source: Arthur and Betty Carney View File Details Page

The Home of Mrs. Oris Walters

The Home of Mrs. Oris Walters

The home of Mrs. Oris Walters sustained heavy damage from the explosion that shook Lick Hill and Butler in 1927. Her home was destroyed by debris and carnage from the truck that exploded when its explosive cargo ignited. | Source: Arthur and Betty Carney View File Details Page

The Rettig Family Home

The Rettig Family Home

The home of Edward Rettig was nearest the blast when the truck carrying nitroglycerin through the village of Lick Hill detonated. His home was flattened by the blast and that left his family all injured and his wife and daughter in critical condition. | Source: Arthur and Betty Carney View File Details Page

E.A.L. Roberts Torpedo Patent

E.A.L. Roberts Torpedo Patent

Oil fracking in the 1920s utilized a metal tube that was filled with nitroglycerin and dropped into the well. The torpedo was used to blow rocks and large objects away from the drill site. Colonel Edward Roberts designed the tool in 1869. | Source: US Patent Office, Patent #86691 www.uspto.gov View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Brian Reed, “Nitroglycerin Explosion of 1927,” Butler County Historical, accessed November 14, 2018, http://butlerhistorical.org/items/show/41.

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