Texas Legislature, Joint Committee to Investigate the New London School Explosion:
An Inventory of the Joint Committee to Investigate the New London School Explosion Hearing Testimony and Report at the Texas State Archives, 1937
On March 18, 1937, a gas explosion at the New London Consolidated School in Rusk County, Texas reduced the structure to rubble and killed 298 pupils, teachers, and visitors. The event was termed "the most serious school disaster that has ever occurred in America," and promoted a nationwide concern for safe construction and heating of schools and other public buildings.
The next day, a resolution was introduced in the Texas House of Representatives, providing for a joint committee to investigate the cause or causes of the New London disaster. According to House Concurrent Resolution 70 (45th Texas Legislature, Regular Session) a committee of six, comprising three members of the house and three members of the senate, were to "make a full and complete investigation of the New London tragedy and recommend to the Legislature necessary legislation... to minimize the probability of similar occurrences."
The joint committee held an organizational meeting at the Randolph Hotel in Henderson, Texas on March 22, 1937. Governor James V Allred, as commander-in-chief of the Texas State Militia, had ordered a military court of inquiry into the cause of the explosion. The committee, in the interest of economy and expedience, sat in at that hearing to prevent a duplication of testimony. The committee also interrogated witnesses in every field of construction work and studied the building codes of several communities across the nation.
The committee's report bears no date, but copies were filed with the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House before the close of the 45th Legislative Session. It was only one of several public reports on the disaster. The findings of the governor's military court of inquiry were summarized and published in a U.S. Senate report to the 75th Congress. The Bureau of Mines of the U.S. Department of the Interior conducted an independent investigation through its representatives, and their findings were also published in the Senate report. The earliest report was published on March 27, less than ten days after the explosion, by H. Oram Smith of the Texas Inspection Bureau.
The several inquiries came to some basic conclusions. Raw gas escaping from leaking lines had accumulated in a dead space between the foundation and basement floor. The gas expanded because of a drop in barometric pressure, and an electrical spark from a switch in the manual training shop had triggered the explosion.
The joint committee, in addition to identifying the source of the explosion, made three recommendations to prevent any future disaster of this nature: creation of a State Plumbing Inspector within the State Board of Health; requiring a malodorant to be placed in all natural gas systems; and creation of a state supervisory body, composed of the State Fire Marshal, Director of the School Plant Division of the Department of Education, and the State Building Inspector of the State Board of Control, to inspect public buildings and promulgate rules and regulations regarding their construction and maintenance. The legislature passed the Texas Engineering Practice Act in 1937 requiring practicing engineers to be licensed by the Texas State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers, since 1997 named the Texas Board of Professional Engineers. The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners was also created in 1937 as a consequence of the disaster, to protect the public from irresponsible practice by architects.
(Sources include: the guide survey completed for this material, and Guide to Texas State Agencies, 11th edition (2001).)
On March 18, 1937, a gas explosion at the New London Consolidated School in Rusk County, Texas reduced the structure to rubble and killed 298 pupils, teachers, and visitors. Records of the Joint Committee to Investigate the New London School Explosion consist of the hearing testimony from the military court of inquiry held two days after the explosion, and a ten-page report completed by the committee in 1937, examining the probable causes of the explosion and making recommendations to prevent a recurrence of another such disaster. The committee gathered part of its evidence at the military court of inquiry into the cause of the explosion that was ordered by Governor James V Allred as commander-in-chief of the Texas State Militia. Copies of the committee's report were filed with the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House before the close of the 45th Texas Legislative Session.
To prepare this inventory, the described materials were cursorily reviewed to delineate series, to confirm the accuracy of contents lists, to provide an estimate of dates covered, and to determine record types.
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Texas Joint Committee to Investigate the New London School Explosion hearing testimony and report. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession number: 2012/152
These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by an unknown agency during the 20th century. An accession number was assigned on April 23, 2012.
Guide survey information compiled by Michael Green, October 1982
Finding aid encoded in EAD Version 2002 as part of the TARO project by Rebecca Romanchuk, April 2012
Hearing testimony added by Rebecca Romanchuk, November 2013
Detailed Description of the Records