Philadelphia, PA Grain Warehouse Explosion, Mar 1956

4 Die As Mystery Blast Hits Philadelphia Area

Eastern City Explosion Wrecks Grain Warehouse, Fire Spread Threatened

Philadelphia (AP) – A bomb-like explosion Wednesday night demolished a big grain warehouse in the busy 30th and Market St. area of Philadelphia, spread wide damage elsewhere and took the lives of at least four persons.

Police, who reported the dead at four so far, said also that an undetermined number of persons were injured, including 14 night class students at the Drexel Institute of Technology. The institute is one of several major educational, governmental and business institutions within five blocks of the scene of the blast.

The explosion, attributed by some Fire Department officials to heavy accumulation of dust in a grain elevator, started fires which roared through the shell of the granary and threatened to spread to neighboring buildings.

Within an hour after the mid-evening blast, which jolted not only the great sprawling city itself, but suburban sections as well, the situation became something of a citywide emergency.

Police Commissioner Thomas GIBBONS, who said his department had received scores of distress calls from all parts of the city, sent more than 500 policemen to the scene.

One of his lieutenants said a large force was needed to protect people from danger, to assist the firemen, to direct traffic away from the areas of peril, and to guard against looting.

Mayor Richardson DILWORTH went to the scene from a meeting with city commissioners.

The Red Cross put several units in the field and a fleet of ambulances was dispatched from Camden, N. J., across the Delaware River.

West River Drive, one of the main arteries of motor travel from outlying sections into the heart of the city, was closed entirely to traffic.

Some of the heaviest damage was suffered by the Philadelphia Bulletin in its new building, which was occupied only last Memorial Day.

The explosion cast tons of debris onto the large landscaped, brilliantly lighted plaza of the Bulletin, left the lighting system there a tangled wreckage, blasted down the ceiling of the main reception lobby and parts of the ceiling elsewhere in the building.

Police told an Associated Press reporter it was feared at least four persons were trapped in an adjoining building and that because of the flames, it would not be possible to batter a way in for some time.

Passersby told policemen and firemen that they heard cries from the upper floors of the building as flames billowed from the windows.

Even as the sorely pressed firemen and policemen fought the granary flames they were alerted to another blaze, about eight blocks away, in a furniture store. It was not known immediately whether this fresh outbreak was the result of the explosion.

Four hospitals within a mile radius reported that up to 10 p.m., at least 115 persons had been treated for injuries, none of them serious.

Many at work in the Bulletin building probably would have suffered injury had they not been protected by sturdy outside walls with windows set only in part of the first floor frontage. This afforded protection against blast and flying glass.

Smoke blotted out the normally brilliant urban lighting and filled the Bulletin building with its stench.

The wrecked building was owned by the Tidewate Mill and Elevator Co. and stood four stories tall and nearly a block long, in the center of a teeming part of the city.

Directly across Market Street is the Philadelphia Bulletin’s huge new building. Within a block or two are the 30th Street station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the city’s main post office building. On Market Street itself, in this area, workmen have been tearing down the remnants of the old elevated railroad structure, the “El” having been replaced recently by a new stretch of subway.

Employes (sic) of the Bulletin and of The Associated Press, which is quartered in the building, were jolted as if from a big bomb. Windows were shattered over a wide radius. And round about the Bulletin building firemen and policemen – by the hundreds – and the thousands of spectators who gathered in a matter of minutes walked perilously in broken glass and fiery fragments.

Mayor Richardson DILWORTH was on the scene a short while after the blast.

“I was meeting the commissioners over at the Free Library – a good two miles or more from the explosion,” he said.

“We felt the concussion and it blew in a big window. All of us hurried right over.

“It’s unbelievable. We could see debris in the streets blocks before we got here.”

Police Commissioner Thomas GIBBONS said his department was getting scores of distress calls from many parts of the city, in some instances from a distance of two miles and more. Suburban residents, living as far away as 22 miles, reported they felt the blast.

Anderson Herald, Anderson, IN 29 Mar 1956


Tidewater Grain Elevator explosion 1956

On this Wed evening I was 14 years old and living in West Philly. A few of my friends and I used to sneak in here at night, go to the top floor and slide down the chute that ran from the top floor to the ground floor. The chute was used by workers to catch the bags of grain at ground level to be loaded onto RR cars or trucks. On this particular nite, about 7 PM a nite watchman came thru on his rounds, discovered us and chased us out threatning to call the police. Little did we know it at the time but he no doubt saved our lives. However he lost his. An hour later, around 8 PM the explosion occurred and the part of the bldg we were in was leveled and on fire. We never told anyone at the time, afraid someone would think we started it. It wasnt until March 1996 on the 40th anniversary that I told my story to a reporter at Phila Daily News and it was published.

Pictures from the tide water grain explosion

If you give me your e-mail address I can send you pictures from that blast. I used to live a few blocks from there.

Tidewater grain co explosion.

I'm interested in more of this subject and wanted to know if you or someone could tell me anything about the 3 victims of the explosion. Thank you for your time.

Grain Fire of 56

Attention Lori
As my mother and I were reading about the Grain Fire we saw that their were many mistakes in it. My grandfather didnt suffer minor injuries, my grandfather had major injuries that would require life long surgries. My grandmother was told that my grandfather may not make it for days. His face, ears, eyes, fingers and other parts of his body were burned. He spent a lot of time in and out of surgries due to skin graphs failing.

If you have any questions please contact me or my mother we would be glad to answer any questions.