Philadelphia, PA Norris and Sons Boiler Explosion, Mar 1863


Shortly before 8 o'clock, yesterday morning, a steam boiler in the forging department at the extensive locomotive works of Norris & Sons, at the corner of Seventeenth and Hamilton streets, exploded with a loud report, which was heard at the distance of several miles. The boiler was of the kind used in coal-burning locomotives. It was eighteen inches in diameter, with a twenty-two inch stroke, and was of eighty horse power. The shop in which the boiler was located was about 80 by 60 feet, part brick and part frame.
Such was the force of the explosion that the furnace was blown out, and was carried over to Callowhill street. The tubes which ran out of the boiler were burst in every imaginable shape. The boiler was broken into fragments, the pieces generally flying in a western by southerly direction. This was fortunate, as there are no houses located on that side of the works, or there probably would have been great loss of life and destruction of property. One piece of the boiler, weighing about one hundred and fifty pounds, landed on the lot at Eighteenth and Callowhill streets. Another piece, weighing about a hundred pounds, fell upon the iron roof over the entrance to Asa Whitney & Sons car-wheel factory, on Seventeenth street, above Callowhill, and went through.
The forge shop was entirely demolished, and all the machinery was ruined. The heavy chimneys and the brick portion on Seventeenth street were not damaged, however. That portion of the building towards Eighteenth street is a complete wreck. The total loss or damage to property is estimated at $12,000.
WILLILAM RODGERS, the engineer, was the only person killed by the explosion. He was cut in two and his head was blown off. The upper part of his body was nothing but a shapeless mass. The lower part was found beside the pump, and it is supposed that he had just turned on the water when the disaster occurred. The deceased was a married man, and leaves six children. He resided in McAllister street, opposite the St. Joseph's Hospital. Some time since he fell from the roof of the establishment and broke his leg, and had just recovered from the effects of that accident.
Several persons made a very miraculous escape. There are generally eight or ten men working in that department, and at the time of the disaster two or three men were in the other part of the building. These were uninjured, although they were thrown violently against the wall. About ten minutes before the explosion, three men were engaged in cutting iron just alongside the boiler, but they had completed their work and left. MR. RICHARD NORRIS usually makes a round of the works in the morning. Yesterday morning he went into the forge-shop and asked MR. ROBERTS, the engineer, if all was right. The reply was in the affirmative, and he went back to his office. He had just comfortably seated himself when the catastrophe happened.
The concussion caused by the explosion was very great. All the windows in the erecting shop, on the north side of Hamilton street, were broken, and in some places the sashes were demolished. Windows all around the neighborhood were also broken. The destruction in glass alone will amount to upwards of $100. A small boy who was in the office of Norris & Son, a square from the scene of the accident, was thrown upon the floor. A gentleman who resides in the First ward distinctly heard the report of the explosion, while parties residing within six or eight squares of the works felt the concussion.
The cause of the explosion is attributed to a deficiency in the water in the boiler and the sudden turning on of the pumps. There had been no work going on since Saturday night, but the engineer had been there on Sunday to see if matters were all right. The insufficiency in the supply of water is supposed to have been caused by the pipes being frozen.
The disaster created a tremendous excitement in the vicinity of the works, and a large crowd soon gathered about the scene. Guards were soon erected, however, to keep the people from venturing too near the building, some portions of which threatened to fall every moment. Nearly all the morning persons were standing around the shop surveying the destruction of property. The damage done to the property will probably reach $10,000.
The explosion undoubtedly was caused by a want of water in the boiler. While MR. NORRIS was in the forge shop he observed some water escaping over the sidewalk, and called the attention of the engineer to the fact. He replied that everything was right, the escaping water coming from an adjacent lager-beer house. MR. NORRIS, after seeing that everything was in apparently good order, passed to another portion of the works, and in a few minutes after this the explosion occurred. MR. NORRIS had just left the place where the engineer was killed. He, therefore, made a very narrow escape.
The statement of one of the men is, that MR. RODGERS had just left him, saying that he was going to try the gauge cocks. It is supposed that he found a want of water, and, turning the flow, the explosion was inevitable.

The Philadelphia Press Pennsylvania 1863-03-17