Eddystone Powder Plant Explosion, 1917
In 1916 the Eddystone Ammunition Company built a manufacturing plant near Chester Pennsylvania for the purpose of making artillery shells for the Russian government. In April 1917, less than a week following the entry of the United States into World War I, one of the plant’s buildings was leveled by a massive explosion which killed more than 130 workers at the facility, nearly all of them women and girls.
The facility had contained nearly twenty tons of black powder used to make fuses for artillery shells. The series of explosions were felt over a radius of ten miles, and bodies of some victims were found floating in the Delaware River, several miles from the site of the factory.
Two sources of potential sabotage were immediately identified, and the company combed its records of recently hired employees to look for suspects. German agents were suspected due to relatively recent industrial “accidents” at other companies but a new possible culprit – Russian Bolsheviks – were also considered to be plausible. Russia had but recently fallen into near anarchy as the result of its revolution and the fact that the plant was assembling shells which would fall into the hands of troops fighting to quell the revolutionary forces against the Czar was considered to be a suitable motive for sabotage.
With the United States now at war the plant was quickly rebuilt to supply artillery shells to the rapidly expanding US Army and its allies in Europe. When the facility reopened it was with a newly enacted rule against hiring workers of German descent, somewhat problematic in the region of Pennsylvania where German immigrants had long made their homes.
Numerous arrests were made in the aftermath of the explosion, mostly of German immigrants or sailors, but nobody was ever convicted of causing the explosion, and decades later Russian anarchists were considered by investigators to be the most likely culprits. The nation was soon distracted by news from the Western Front and the cause of the Eddystone Explosion was never officially determined.