Category Archives: Darwin Awards

1927: Don’t fix leaky gas tanks with blowtorches

One of the world’s largest gas explosions occurred in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in November 1927. It occurred in the Equitable Gas Company’s gasometer, a prominent city landmark billed as the largest man-made gas tank on Earth.

On the morning of November 14th, a team of workmen was sent to investigate a gas leak in an adjoining side tank. Thinking it safe, they began to repair the tank with acetylene blowtorches. Their flames ignited more than five million cubic feet of natural gas in the main tank, blowing it to pieces.

According to eyewitness accounts, the explosion created a fireball that reached 200 metres in height. The blast shook Pittsburgh like an earthquake and was felt in four different states. More than a square mile of the city was levelled, leaving several thousand people homeless. Metal shards, broken glass and burning debris rained down on the city for an hour. Large chunks of debris landed more than a mile from the scene. More than 800 people were seriously injured – but surprisingly only 28 were killed, including the workmen who triggered the explosion.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 15th 1927. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1777: Earl meets end in well; dog survives

Simon Harcourt was raised to the peerage in 1749 after his military service to George II. As the 1st Earl Harcourt, he served as an advisor to the future George III and an ambassador on the European continent, including four years in Paris.

Harcourt met a watery end in September 1777, aged 63. While walking on his estate in Oxfordshire, the earl apparently fell head-first into a well while trying to rescue his dog:

“…the body of Earl Harcourt was found dead in a narrow well in his park, with the head downwards and nothing appearing above water but the feet and legs. It is imagined this melancholy accident was occasioned by his overreaching himself in endeavouring to save the life of a favourite dog, which was found in the well with him, standing on his lordship’s feet.”

Source: Pennsylvania Evening Post, December 30th 1777. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.