T. A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant explosion
Residents of Morgan, NJ flee from the explosions to Perth Amboy
|Time||7:36 PM EDT|
|Date||October 4, 1918to October 6, 1918|
|Location||Sayreville, New Jersey|
|Also known as||Morgan Munitions Depot|
|Cause||Possible plant worker error|
|Participants||US Coast Guard, US Army|
|Outcome||Plant abandoned following armistice|
|Property damage||Complete destruction of plant; major damage to buildings in Sayreville, South Amboy, and Perth Amboy, NJ|
|Suspect(s)||German spies (speculation)|
The T. A. Gillespie Company Shell Loading Plant explosion, sometimes called the Morgan Depot Explosion, occurred at 7:36 p.m. on October 4, 1918 at a World War I ammunition plant operated by the T. A. Gillespie Company and located in the Morgan area of Sayreville in Middlesex County, New Jersey. The initial explosion, believed to be accidental, triggered a fire and subsequent series of explosions which continued for three days. The facility, said to be one of the largest in the world at the time, was destroyed along with more than 300 buildings, forcing reconstruction of Sayreville and neighboring South Amboy.
T. A. Gillespie
T. A. Gillespie Company, a subsidiary of the American Shell Company, was loading shells for military action during World War I. The company was renamed Gillespie Motor Company in 1919, merged to form Gillespie-Eden Corporation in 1920, and disappeared sometime after 1923.
Damage to the area was estimated to be US$18 million and the US Government paid US$300,000 in insurance to area residents, respectively equal to approximately $300 million and $5 million in 2012 dollars. According to a 1919 government report, the explosion destroyed enough ammunition to supply the western front for six months.
Martial law was declared following the accident, forcing the evacuation of Sayreville, South Amboy, and Perth Amboy, whose combined populations totaled approximately 62,000. The death toll for the accident is unclear, since employment records were destroyed by the explosion, but it is assumed to be over 100 persons, with hundreds more injured. The unidentified remains of 14 to 18 workers were buried in a mass grave on Ernston Road in Old Bridge. Evacuated and homeless persons were said to be more susceptible to the influenza pandemic that occurred the following winter, and the area's death toll from the outbreak was high.
Coast Guard involvement
Among many others involved in rescue operations were a number of United States Coast Guardsmen stationed across the Raritan River in Perth Amboy. Twelve received Navy Crosses for their heroic actions in the aftermath of the explosion, and two died in the effort. The award citations indicate that during the conflagration, they risked death when they relocated a train loaded with TNT that was threatened by the fire. One Navy Cross recipient was Joseph Stika, who later became a Vice Admiral.
Debris was scattered over a large area by the explosions. As late as 2007, unexploded ordnance or other material from the facility was being found in the surrounding area. On June 7, 2007, ordnance was found at Samsel Upper Elementary School while workers were grading an area for a playground. Explosive Ordnance Disposal crews were called in to remove the material. Previously, in 1994 and again in 1997, the discovery of shells near Sayreville's Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary School spurred cleanup operations by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which collected and disposed of a combined total of 5,080 pieces of ordnance.
- "Recipients Of The Navy Cross – The Gillespie Plant Explosion". HomeOfHeroes.com. Retrieved December 13, 2014.
- "For 3 days, the ground shook in South Amboy". The Star-Ledger. October 4, 1998.
- "Gillespie Motor Co. – History". VintageMachinery.org.
- "Morgan Munitions Blast Remembered 80 Years Later". Home News Tribune. October 4, 1998.
- "Great Munition Plant Blown Up; 100 May Be Dead". The New York Times. October 5, 1918.
- "Day of Explosions and Fire Finishes Shell Plant Ruin". The New York Times. October 6, 1918.
- Unofficial Arlington Cemetery page. Frederick J. Birkett III.
- "Explosions devastated Morgan 90 years ago". The Suburban. October 16, 2008.
- "Old military explosive unearthed in schoolyard". The Suburban. July 6, 2007.
- "75-year-old ordnance cleared from schoolyard". American City and Country. March 1, 1995.
- "Sayreville War Memorial High School". Retrieved October 13, 2014.
- Archival photos of victims and damaged locations (subscription required)
- Rediscovering the Ruins of a Catastrophic WWI Explosion Everyone Forgot
- Ernst Memorial Cemetery, location of the tomb of the unknown dead