Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1917

The Great Halifax Explosion

At 9:05 a.m., in the harbor of Halifax in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, the most devastating manmade explosion in the pre-atomic age occurs when the Mont Blanc, a French munitions ship, explodes 20 minutes after colliding with another vessel.

As World War I raged in Europe, the port city of Halifax bustled with ships carrying troops, relief supplies, and munitions across the Atlantic Ocean. On the morning of December 6, the Norwegian vessel Imo left its mooring in Halifax harbor for New York City. At the same time, the French freighter Mont Blanc, its cargo hold packed with highly explosive munitions–2,300 tons of picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 35 tons of high-octane gasoline, and 10 tons of gun cotton–was forging through the harbor’s narrows to join a military convoy that would escort it across the Atlantic.

At approximately 8:45 a.m., the two ships collided, setting the picric acid ablaze. The Mont Blanc was propelled toward the shore by its collision with the Imo, and the crew rapidly abandoned the ship, attempting without success to alert the harbor of the peril of the burning ship. Spectators gathered along the waterfront to witness the spectacle of the blazing ship, and minutes later it brushed by a harbor pier, setting it ablaze. The Halifax Fire Department responded quickly and was positioning its engine next to the nearest hydrant when the Mont Blanc exploded at 9:05 a.m. in a blinding white flash.

The massive explosion killed more than 1,800 people, injured another 9,000–including blinding 200–and destroyed almost the entire north end of the city of Halifax, including more than 1,600 homes. The resulting shock wave shattered windows 50 miles away, and the sound of the explosion could be heard hundreds of miles away.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Irish Free State declared

The Irish Free State, comprising four-fifths of Ireland, is declared, ending a five-year Irish struggle for independence from Britain. Like other autonomous nations of the former British Empire, Ireland was to remain part of the British Commonwealth, symbolically subject to the ...read more

13th Amendment ratified

On this day in 1865, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, officially ending the institution of slavery, is ratified. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the ...read more

The Monongah coal mine disaster

In West Virginia’s Marion County, an explosion in a network of mines owned by the Fairmont Coal Company in Monongah kills 361 coal miners. It was the worst mining disaster in American history. In 1883, the creation of the Norfolk and Western Railway opened a gateway to the ...read more

Washington Monument completed

On this day in 1884, in Washington, D.C., workers place a nine-inch aluminum pyramid atop a tower of white marble, completing the construction of an impressive monument to the city’s namesake and the nation’s first president, George Washington. As early as 1783, the infant U.S. ...read more

Ulysses is ruled not obscene

On this day, a federal judge rules that Ulysses by James Joyce is not obscene. The book had been banned immediately in both the United States and England when it came out in 1922. Three years earlier, its serialization in an American review had been cut short by the U.S. Post ...read more