Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/818

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ty," and holding twenty-five tin cans, each containing a pound of gunpowder. Probably there was no intent in either case to injure vessel or passengers—the offender only desired to get his powder safely landed at the vessel's destination without paying duties or high freight charges. Present laws cover this species of fraud much better than they do the worse crime of plotting to destroy ship, crew, and passengers.

When explosions are mentioned, one naturally thinks first of gunpowder. Explosions in powder-factories in Maine and Missouri destroyed the entire building and killed, in one case one workman, in the other eleven. A similar disaster in Mexico destroyed a whole square, burying many families under the ruins, and about sixty bodies were recovered. Some mishap in firing the fog-gun at Bird Rocks Light-house, on the St. Lawrence, ignited a barrel of gunpowder near by, killing three persons. A Louisiana merchant, in his store, struck a match to light a cigarette, and a scintilla of the burning sulphur flew into a can containing twenty-five pounds of powder. The explosion demolished the building and stock of goods, killed the careless proprietor and injured two blameless by-standers. Now, gunpowder has been so long in use and is so familiarly known, that there ought to be an end of such carelessness as accounts like these indicate. Very rarely, a disaster by gunpowder occurs which may be called pure accident. In a room where drugs were ground in quantities, dust of sulphur, also of saltpeter, gradually settled on the beams, in corners and crevices, and in the various places where dust in such a work-room is wont to gather, and it was intermingled naturally with dust such as every breeze brings, supplying a modicum of carbon. The mixture was equivalent to gunpowder, and, when a workman dropped a lighted candle, the roof flew off in fragments. He was scarcely to blame. There is a "white gunpowder" about which a prudent person might make a mistake. But the majority of powder explosions are attributable to sheer carelessness. The trouble is that "familiarity breeds contempt"; yet how to induce greater care is a perplexing question.

Nitro-glycerine and dynamite have done their share of mischief. In Colorado, four out of five men, who were preparing a charge of nitro-glycerine for a mining blast, were killed by a premature discharge; and in Pennsylvania a magazine containing three hundred pounds of this substance exploded, doing immense damage. At Council Bluffs, just as the Garfield memorial exercises were closing, there was a fearful explosion of a car-load of blasting-powder, probably dynamite, which demolished the railroad company's buildings and nearly fifty of their cars, dug a hole in the ground forty-five feet across and fifteen feet deep, shattered buildings throughout the city and glass windows even in Omaha across the river, and made itself felt as far as Missouri Valley, twenty miles away. One can not judge from the brief