Coralville, IA Paper Mill Explosion, Jul 1875


Terrific Explosion of Chemicals in a Paper Mill Six Men Killed--Wreck of an Important Manufacturing Concern.

The Iowa City Press of Friday says: One of the largest of our manufacturing establishments was Close's paper mill at Coralville, one and a half miles from this city. It ran two paper machines, eleven beating engines, and four pulping tanks. Its manual force was thirty men and women, divided into two gangs, each twelve hours on and twelve off. It stopped only at 12 o'clock each Saturday night, to start again at 12 each Sunday night, and the week saw no pause in the ponderous and interesting machinery. Its product was six tons of paper every twenty-four hours, ready for shipping, and every bale left its doors for the freight cars upon the track immediately in front, which carried it to all the markets.

It was the grand outgrowth of the energy and enterprise of M. T. Close. and to-day it is in ruins and six men are lying dead around it.


occurred in the tank room, tank No. 3, weighing 6,000 pounds, being lifted from its bottom and blown so high that it looked no larger than a flour barrel, and falling into the river.

It was about 9 o'clock last evening in the dusk. The gang of hands that came on at noon were within three hours of the end of their stent. The midnight gang had finished their sleep and supped, and were scattered around the village waiting for their time; some were in their cottages with their families, and some were visiting neighbors, for the cool night was pleasant and invited there laborers to its enjoyment, while the fifteen in the mill pursued their tasks, with thoughts of perhaps far away from the great waterwheels rumbling under them, and its clanking wheels and twisting shafts around.

Frank Chiba, the fireman, whose duty it was to regulate the steam passing into the tanks, was at his post. Joseph Smally was in the stock room, behind tank No. 4. Tierney was at the straw cutter, and Gilmore and Sinton were in the room over the tanks and Herman Bechtel, an employe[sic] of the flouring mill near by, was chatting with Chiba in the boiler room. These six persons were instantly killed.

James Smally, son of Joseph, was in the engine room next to the river, and cowering in the corner the explosion passed over him and he was unhurt.

George Stevens, George Close, son of the proprietor of the mill, W. A. Forbes, machine-tenders, were in the machine room, and, although all were knocked down by the concussion, were not seriously hurt.

Thomas Lally, engine tender, was in the engine room north of the tanks, and escaped without much injury.

The ladies, Mary Ward, Jennie Warren, Jane Basor, and Martha Docherty, were at their places at the "delivery" of the paper machines. Mary Ward was struck on the back with debris, Jane Basor was knocked down twice with falling timbers or brick, and Martha Docherty was cut on the shoulder, but none of their injuries are serious.


Nathaniel Gilmore was blown many hundred feet into the air, and struck the ground in front to the flour mill 100 feet north of the paper mill. His pitchfork and lantern---he was a straw handler---made the dread journey, and were found with him.

Frank Chiba went into the air, and struck 100 feet west of the boilers.

Walter Sinton was blown into the air and fell several yards from the mill, west, across the street, striking and piercing the roof of a paint shop in the second story of Statler's wagon factory. To so great a height did the impetus carry him that in his fall he made a hole in the roof as large as his body, breaking through the shingles, the inch sheathing and snapping two rafters. His body was not found until the hole in the roof was seen this morning.

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