Woodson Research Center, Rice University

Guide to the Texas City disaster records, 1947-2003



Descriptive Summary

Creator Morris, Robert M.
Title: Texas City disaster records
Dates: 1947-2003
Abstract: The Texas City disaster records were created and / or maintained by survivor Robert M. Morris, of Texas City, TX. The reports, statements, images and notes describe the events of the April 16, 1947 when a French ship carrying fertilizer on Galveston Bay caught fire and exploded, causing disaster on shore at the nearby Monsanto styrene plant and other petroleum refineries, homes, warehouses, ships and buildings. At least 576 were killed and 4,000 injured, with the town being almost completely destroyed.
Identification: MS 529
Extent: 1.5 lin. feet (2 boxes)
Language Materials are in English.
Repository: Woodson Research Center,  Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, Texas

Historical Sketch

The worst industrial accident in U.S. history took place on the morning of April 16, 1947 when a French freighter carrying fertilizer (ammonium nitrate) on Galveston Bay caught fire and exploded, causing disaster on shore at the nearby Monsanto styrene plant and other petroleum refineries, homes, warehouses, ships and buildings. At least 576 were killed and 4,000 injured, with Texas City being almost completely destroyed.

Monsanto rebuilt the plant, which was only three years old, in order to help supply the nation's synthetic rubber needs during World War II. The plant was bought by Gordon Cain in 1986 and became known as Sterling Chemicals.

Correspondents include Robert M. Morris of Grantham, N.H.; William H. Lane of Texas City; John F. Jacobs of Nashville, TN; and Fred Ruecker. Lane survived the disaster. Morris was Monsanto's Assistant Plant Manager. After being thrown in a Jeep, trapped under it and nearly drowned by a tidal wave, Morris survived and went on to assist in the rescue efforts. Fred Ruecker lost his father, a plant engineer, in the disaster, as did John F. Jacobs. After surviving the disaster, Morris was transferred to Springfield, Massachusetts (1949) and then to St. Louis (1953), going on to eventually settled in New Hampshire.

Morris' daughter Susie Glasscock earned her BA in economics from Rice in 1962 and currently serves on the Rice Board of Trustees. Her husband Melbern Glasscock earned a BSME from Texas A&M in 1959 and his MS in mechanical engineering at Rice in 1961. Mr. and Mrs. Glasscock have been regular students of the School of Continuing Studies at Rice University for almost 30 years. In January 2006, the school was renamed the Susanne M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies in honor of the Glasscock's endowment gift believed to be the largest endowment gift ever made to a university continuing education program in the United States.


Scope and Contents

The Texas City disaster records were created and / or maintained by survivor Robert M. Morris. The reports, statements, images and notes describe the events of the April 16, 1947 when a French freighter carrying fertilizer caught fire and exploded, causing disaster on shore at the nearby Monsanto petroleum plant and other refineries, homes, warehouses and buildings. At least 576 were killed and 4,000 injured, with the town being almost completely destroyed.

Original materials of note include Monsanto statements and reports and correspondence about the events. Two videotapes feature documentaries of the disaster. The History Channel documentary, "Eyes of Texas" (Houston KHOU-TV) segment and two Houston KTRC-TV News Channel 13 segments include first accounts from survivors, including Robert Morris and William Lane.


 

Series I: Statements, 1947-1948
Series II: Reports, 1947
Series III: Newsclippings, 1947-2003
Series IV: Monsanto Chemical Co. plant history and personnel
Series V: Correspondence, 1947 and 1997
Series VI: Anniversary events
Series VII: Maps and photographs
Series VIII: Video, 1957 & 1997 notes

Restrictions

Access Restrictions

This material is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish from the Texas City disaster records, 1947-2003, MS 529, must be obtained from the Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.


Index Terms

Subjects (Persons)
Lane, William M.
Jacobs, John F.
Ruecker, Fred.
Subjects (Organizations)
Monsanto Chemical Company
Subjects (Ships)
High Flyer (Ship) -- Explosion, 1947.
Grandchamp (Ship) -- Explosion, 1947.
Wilson B. Keene (Ship) -- Explosion, 1947.
Subjects
Industrial accidents – Texas.
Fires -- Texas -- Texas City -- History -- 20th century.
Disasters -- Texas -- Texas City -- History -- 20th century.
Subjects (Places)
Texas City (Tex.) -- History.
Texas City (Tex.) -- Fire, 1947.
Formats
Reports
Correspondence
Photographs
Videotapes
Newsletters
Newsclippings
Statements

Related Material

Mansanto Chemical Company archives located at Washington University Libraries, St. Louis, Missouri. Finding aid for this material is on-line at http://library.wustl.edu/units/spec/archives/guides/pdf/monsanto.pdf.


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Texas City disaster records, 1947-2003, MS 529, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.

Acquisition Information

This collection was donated by Susie Glasscock, 2007.


Detailed Description of the Collection

 

Series I: Statements, 1947-1948

R. M. Morris statements, 1947
Monsanto statements, 1947-1948



 

Series II: Reports, 1947

Monsanto Executive Committee report, May 1947
Monsanto Dept. of Industrial & Public Relations Report, May 1947
Oil Insurance Underwriters Report, June 1947
Fire Prevention & Engineering Bureau of Texas, and national Board of Fire Underwriters, undated report



 

Series III: Newsclippings, 1947-2003

1947-2003



 

Series IV: Monsanto Chemical Co. plant history and personnel

Monsanto plant history, 1941-1965
Personnel rosters, 1947 (annotated with information on the deceased and missing)
Personnel organizational charts, Texas Division, 1947-1948 (includes position titles and occupants' names, as well as notes "dead" and "safe")
Monsanto Chemical Co. casualties, hospitalizations, widows and survivors, 1947



 

Series V: Correspondence, 1947, 1955 and 1997

Correspondence, 1947, 1955 and 1997
1947 correspondence includes an original account of the disaster by William Lane, and 1947 Monsanto newsletters; 1997 correspondence relates to anniversary events.



 

Series VI: Anniversary events, 1997

Correspondence, flyers, brochures and ephemera regarding 1997 anniversary events in Texas City
Newspaper coverage of 1997 anniversary



 

Series VII: Maps and photographs

Site maps, 1947
Includes a site map annotated with numbers relating to photographs, and an index to those photographs, but it is not clear if the largely unannotated photographs in this collection relate to this index.
Images, pre-explosion (21 black and white 8x10s)
Images, post-explosion (11 black and white 8x10s, 6 black and white postcards)
Images, oversize (5 black and white 11x14s)



 

Series VIII: Video, 1957 & 1997 notes

Manuscript and typescript notes regarding "Texas City Film" and "Introduction to Safety Movie", 1952 with 1997 notes
VHS videotape "Texas City - 1997 Reviews" 20 minutes. Includes "Eyes of Texas" (Houston KHOU-TV Channel 2) segment and two Houston KTRC-TV News Channel 13 segments. Not for reproduction.
VHS videotape "Texas City - History Channel" 45 minutes. Not for reproduction.
DVD access copy of videotapes: "Texas City - 1997 Reviews" 20 minutes & "Texas City - History Channel" 45 minutes. Not for reproduction.