At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was becoming a premier manufacturing hub. Just three miles upriver from Pittsburgh was the Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville. In 1862, during the mass production of war materials for the Union Army, tragedy struck. On September 17th, an series of three explosions devastated the Arsenal, killing 78 people, primarily women and girls who where loading cartridges. Deliveryman Joseph Frick had just finished unloading 10 100-pound barrels of gunpowder and was in the process of leaving when he was blown off his wagon. The first explosion wrecked the Arsenal’s laboratory, the second and third explosions destroyed the packing and shipping building.
While part of the tragedy was caused by human negligence; leaky barrels with loose lids abounded, spilled gun powder within the factory was swept into the streets rather than being picked up, and the a stone roadway that was full of iron, ultimately two witnesses collaborated the same cause of the explosions – either a horse’s hoof or the iron rim of the wagon wheel set off the spark.
To learn more about the Allegheny Arsenal Explosion we suggest Pittsburgh’s Forgotten Allegheny Arsenal by Jim Wudarczyk.