Today in 1905, an employee using a hot iron to clear fuse debris from a reeling machine touched off a muffled explosion in the main building of the Climax Fuse factory in Avon. Though the blast was barely heard 300 feet away, the sheets of flame it triggered instantly engulfed the factory, suffocating seven workers and desperately burning dozens more.
A Hartford doctor, E. W. Kellogg, whose summer home was across the street, called the mad rush of men and women trying to escape the flames the most awful sight (of many) he had ever witnessed. “Some jumped from the windows, and some were trampled underfoot. They were horribly burned. . . It was a sickening sight.”
As Kellogg tried to assist the injured and doctors and fire companies from throughout the region raced to help the injured and quench the factory flames, the death toll rose dramatically. Of the sixty-five workers employed by the company – whose renowned safety-fuses were widely used to set off dynamite in blasting and construction projects – almost two-thirds were killed, or suffered agonizing and disfiguring injuries. The factory itself was a complete loss.
The impact on a single family is a telling reminder of the risks immigrant workers often faced during Connecticut’s era of great industrial expansion. Six of the eight living children of John J. McCarthy and Mary Dalton, who had emigrated to the state from Ireland in 1872, worked at Climax Fuse when the blast occurred. Twin brothers Richard and Michael McCarthy were killed in the fire. Their fifteen-year-old brother T. R. survived, though the skin was burned off both his arms. Twenty-one-year-old Simon McCarthy was blown out a window and landed unconscious on a mortar pile, while P. H. McCarthy was blown out of a second story window and landed in a brook forty feet away. He immediately waded ashore and began looking for his brothers. A sister, Mary, the family’s only girl, worked some distance from the explosion and was unharmed, though her cousin Molly McCarthy was not so lucky. She also died in the fire, another one of the tragedy’s fifteen fatalities.
For the McCarthys, and in fact for all involved, the Climax Fuse Company explosion was a never-to-be-forgotten catastrophe. For us, it serves as a climactic reminder that Connecticut’s industrial greatness sometimes came at a terrible price, today in Connecticut history.
“Avon Industry: From Underground to Outer Space,” connecticuthistory.org
Linda Horton, “Avon,CT Fuse Co. Explosion, Sept 1905,” GenDisasters.com