Kenvil, NJ Hercules Powder Company Explosion, Sept 1940

Kenvil Memorial Plaque Kenvil NJ Powder plant blast 1940.jpg


Dewitt Man Is Killed In $1,000,000 Jersey Plant Blast

Kenvil, N. J., Sept. 13 (UP) -- The death toll in the Hercules Powder Company disaster rose steadily today as eight separate agencies sought evidence of sabotage in connection with the explosion and fire which one rescue official said may have taken nearly 100 lives.
By noon 35 bodies, five of them unidentified, had been extricated from the still-smouldering ruins of what had been, up to 1:30 P. M. yesterday, one of the most productive munitions plants in the country.
Among the dead was WILLARD S. JORDAN, of 106 Dunham Road, Dewitt, N. Y.
Sheriff Henry Sperling of Morris County emerged from the plant grounds after a visit of inspection, gestured at the scene of devastation and remarked:
"There must be 60 more in there."
W. C. Hunt, operations director of the company, was more conservative, however. He said "probably four or five" more bodies still were buried in the wreckage. The damage was estimated at $1,000,000.
The Army and Navy Intelligence Services, the Hercules Company, state police, the Dies committee, local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New Jersey Legislature were conducting or preparing to start investigations.
More than 200 men were searching for bodies, aided by a steam shovel. In two nearby hospitals 83 persons, some near death, still were receiving treatment.
The whole smokeless powder section of the plant, where work was being speeded on a $2,000,000 Government defense order, was leveled to the ground. A dynamite-making unit escaped damage, however, and the morning shift of workers filed back to the grounds. Casualties had decimated the plant's force of 1,200 employes, but the survivors were all put to work, making dynamite, clearing debris and hunting for bodies.
The scene was swarming with investigators representing the Army and Navy Intelligence services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Dies committee investigating un-American activities, the New Jersey Legislature and police. Some of the secret agents had come by taxicab from as far as Virginia.
A search of the ruins was delayed by smouldering fires, which had burned fitfully all night, accompanied by puffs of alcohol vapors. Over more than half a square mile hot stones and bricks and molten steel lay in heaps.
Awaiting an opportunity to get onto the grounds, investigators questioned surviving workers, some of whom said that several employes of the Hercules and the Picatinny Army arsenal at Dover, nearby, had been discharged recently as the aftermath of a joint Ku Klux Klan "German" American bund meeting at the bund's Camp Nordland, 10 miles from here.
The workers said that FBI men had watched the meeting and had noticed several cars bearing the small identification plates issued to munitions plant workers, entering the Bund camp. A check-up of those identification plates led to the dismissals, according to the workers.
There were 69 seriously injured in General Hospital at Dover and 14 in All Souls Hospital at Morristown.