Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Bicentennial Moment: The Nitro-Glycerine Explosion in Fairport

The heads of two families, now famous in American chemical manufacturing were business partners in Fairport, during the Civil War era.  Fairport's prosperous ship provisioning business had dropped off by the mid-1800's.  The loss of import and export revenues and the coming of the Lake Shore Railroad had led Fairport into a period of economic decline.  On the eve of the post Civil War Era arrived a new chief industry in Lake County. Two business partners in this new factory were synonymous with the explosives industry.  One was named  Caesar A. Graselli and the other was Lammot Du Pont.  Both men had long histories in Europe in the chemical industry.  Graselli's ancestors had manufactured sulphuric acid in Italy before expanding into the Rhineland.  DuPonte de Nemours early history in France (c.1789) was second only to Graselli in European chemical manufacturing.  Their business partners in Fairport were warehouse owners J.H. King, C.M. Wheeler and H. Hinkley.  These five men established a huge nitro-glycerine factory on the west bank of the Grand River. The Lake Shore Nitro-Glycerine company was established in 1868.  Storage facilities were built and explosives were shipped  to the ore mines on Lake Superior as well as to the oil fields in Pennsylvania.

Although economic times were slow, the nitro factory was not very welcome in Fairport.  Complaints of the effluvia(fumes) were lodged.  Close proximity to resident homes (189-400') caused unrest.  Three residents were arrested for the threat of violence to the establishment.  The perceived danger found an ardent spokesman in Samuel Butler, former keeper of the light and local businessman. Petitions to legislators proved futile. The inevitable happened, first on September 18, 1870 at 10p.m.  The Sunday night explosion in one of the magazines left 15' trenches in the sand.  Considerable damage was reported throughout the village as windows were smashed, doors burst open and homes badly shaken.  The September explosion was a mere foreshadowing of what was to come.  Despite the public outcry to desist and disband, the nitro company continued to manufacture explosives.  A worst disaster soon followed.  A terrific explosion was reported on November 1, 1870.  Both magazines exploded.  The factory was wrecked, many village homes ruined and nearly every town window was broken.  Four men who were at work were blown to atoms.  The concussion of the blast was reported in Painesville and Chardon.  The explosion had leveled both sides of the Grand River.  All was lost.

The business partnership was dissolved as a result of the event.  The owners made good on the damages and it was reported that settlements were quite generous to those affected.  The factory never reopened.  A chapter in Fairport's early history was now officially closed.


  1. The Four Irish Gentlemen died in the blast: Melvin Malone 1870 Nov 1 age 55 Resident Fairport, O. Ireland Laborer N.G. Explosion Fairport,
    Nelson Malone 1870 Nov 1 M age 32 Res. Fairport, O. Ireland Laborer Father: Melvin Malone N.G. Explosion Fairport, O
    Edward Duncan 1870 Nov 1 M age: 25 Res. Fairport, O. Ireland Laborer N.G. Explosion Fairport, O.
    Patrick Scribner 1870 Nov 1 W 43 Fairport, O. Ireland Laborer
    Father: Abel Scribner N.G. Explosion Fairport, O.
    Information Based on the: Lake County Ohio GenWeb
    Lake County, Ohio Death Records
    Volume 1, Pages 18-21

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