New Haven, CT Winchester Arms Factory Explosion, Jul 1897


Disaster in the Winchester Arms Factory, New Haven, Conn.


The Accident Occurred in the Loading Room While in Full Operation – The Building Wrecked – Powder in One of the Automatic Machines Exploded From Unknown Cause – Awful Scenes.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (Special).-- The most serious explosion in the long history of the Winchester Arms Company occurred at twenty minutes to ten o'clock Wednesday morning in the loading department of the cartridge factory. Four women and three men were killed almost instantly.
The list of the dead is:
EDWARD BARDOFF, twenty-one years old, left hip blown off and side badly mangled, died in hospital;
MRS. NELLIE BAUERMEISTER, sixteen years old, Hamdon, killed instantly;
JULIUS BORMAN, JR., seventeen years old, powder boy, killed instantly;
JOSEPHINE BRENNAN, orphan, eighteen years old, killed instantly.
MRS. IDA BROWN, thirty years old, head blown off;
THERESA CONNELLY, sixteen years old, left arm blown off, head burned and thigh crushed, died on the way to the hospital;
WALTER HILL, twenty years old, powder boy, spine broken and right shoulder crushed.
Those most seriously injured are:
GEORGE J. BARDOFF, twenty-three years old, brother of EDWARD, right eye turn out, forearm broken in tow places and bruised and cut, in hospital and may recover.
MISS GLASS, left arm almost torn out.
EDWARD LEHR, badly burned, arms filled with shot.
The cause of the explosion is not known. The cartridge factory is about 100 feet long, twenty feet high and thirty feet wide. It is constructed of light timbers. The roof was of canvas and the entire construction was made so as to lessen the danger from falling debris in the event of an explosion.
About 150 persons are employed in the shop, two-thirds of whom are girls, whose ages average from sixteen to twenty years. When the explosion occurred the sop was in full operation. The cartridge machines were filled with paper cartridges in which black powder is used. The loading machines are complicated structures and very heavy. The powder is poured into the hoppers from the roof.
A single grain of powder getting out of its place and being crushed in the machinery is likely to cause a spark that may result in an explosion but a small quantity of the powder is poured into the hopper at a time and the machinery is arranged so that in case of an explosion it would probably be blown through the roof. Such accidents have happened without loss of life.
This explosion, however, did not follow this rule. Instead of the force of the powder going upward, it spent itself in all directions through the factory. The explosion came without any warning.
Dozens of employees were knocked senseless at their benches seventy-five feet from the loading machine where the explosion occurred. When they got to where the timbers of the building had fallen in, the room was black with smoke. Girls went screaming through the shattered walls, and never stopped in their flight until they were safe in their homes, blocks away. Some fainted, as they reached the open air and lay half lifeless.
The explosion set off charges of shot and shell right and left, which, together with the burning powder, were embedded in the arms, bodies and faces of the workmen who chanced to be nearest the death dealing machine. Many of these men rushed back to the bulding as soon as the dense smoke cleared away, and, with blood streaming from their wounds, were the first to rescue the living and carry out the dead.
The wrecked building took fire, and had it not been for the prompt work of the engines the dead would have been burned. Alarms from the factory brought ambulances and a half dozen physicians, and everything possible was done for the relief of those who still suffered.
Gray-haired men and women, mothers with babies in their arms and little children, struggled, begged and became hysterical for news of their friends. As names of the dead was sent through the police lines, women fainted in the street, and men, benumbed by the awfulness of the accident, walked away and forgot to render assistance. From every department of the great factory employees rushed pell mell as soon as the gates were opened. Terror seized every one and the entire factory was shut down for the day.

The Cranbury Press New Jersey 1897-07-30