University of Houston Libraries, Special Collections

Guide to the Texas City Disaster Photographs

Overview of the Collection

Creator Townsend, Charles Tellus
Collection Title Texas City Disaster Photographs
Dates 1947-
Identification 05/1969-035
Physical Description 0.25 linear feet
Other Information:
Uploaded to TARO, 2006.
Additional information may be found at
Repository University of Houston Libraries M.D. Anderson Library 4333 University Drive Houston, TX, 77204-2000 URL: Email: Phone: 713-743-9229

Biographical Information:

Charles Tellus Townsend was a local police officer who captured photographs of the aftermath of the Texas City Disaster in 1947.

One of the worst disasters in Texas history occurred on April 16, 1947, when the ship SS Grandcamp exploded at 9:12 A.M. at the docks in Texas City. The French-owned vessel, carrying explosive ammonium nitrate caught fire early in the morning, and while attempts were being made to extinguish the fire, the ship exploded. The entire dock area was destroyed, along with the nearby Monsanto Chemical Company, other smaller companies, grain warehouses, and numerous oil and chemical storage tanks. Smaller explosions and fires were ignited, by flying debris, along the industrial area and also throughout the city. Fragments of iron, parts of the ship's cargo, and dock equipment were hurled into businesses, houses, and public buildings. A fifteen-foot tidal wave caused by the force swept the dock area. The concussion of the explosion, felt as far away as Port Arthur, damaged or destroyed at least 1,000 residences and buildings throughout Texas City. The ship SS High Flyer, in dock for repairs and also carrying ammonium nitrate, was ignited by the first explosion; it was towed 100 feet from the docks before it exploded about sixteen hours later, at 1:10 A.M. on April 17. The first explosion had killed twenty-six Texas City firemen and destroyed all of the city's fire-fighting equipment, including four trucks, leaving the city helpless in the wake of the second explosion. Probably the exact number of people killed will never be known, although the ship's anchor monument records 576 persons known dead, 398 of whom were identified, and 178 listed as missing.

Scope and Contents

This set of 21 photographs was taken by an unknown individual between April 16 & 21 - immediately after the 1947 explosion in Texas City. At some point the photos were taken from a small album. We have the notes concerning each photo made on the facing album pages but no additional information. Please see the "Historical Note," above, for more information about the deadly explosion.


Conditions Governing Access:

Open for research

Conditions Governing Use:

Special Collections owns the physical items in our collections, but copyright normally belongs to the creator of the materials or their heirs. The researcher has full responsibility for determining copyright status, locating copyright holders, and abiding by current copyright laws when publishing or displaying copies of Special Collections material in print or electronic form. For more information, consult the appropriate librarian.

Access Terms

This Collection is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms
Genre/Form of Material:
Geographic Name:
Texas City (Tex.)
Topical Term:

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation:

Texas City 1947 Disaster Photographs, Courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

Acquisition Information:


Processing Information:

K. Fox, 1998

Detailed List of Contents

Box Folder
1 1 Motor convoy for Texas City
Motor Convoy for Texas City

Box Folder
1 2 Police Headquarters. This is the main section of town - about 1.5 miles from explosion
Police Headquarters. This is the main section of town - about 1.5 miles from explosion

Box Folder
1 3 Houses one mile from explosion
Damaged houses

Box Folder
1 4 Houses one mile from explosion
Corner view of damaged houses

Box Folder
1 5 Houses one mile from explosion
Row of damaged houses

Box Folder
1 6 Road heading into explosion area - one mile from area of the first explosion
Road heading into explosion area - one mile from area of first explosion

Box Folder
1 7 Parking area one half mile from explosion area. Car at left of picture damaged by first explosion
Parking area one half mile from explosion

Box Folder
1 8 Oil tanks afire third day after explosion - one mile to the left of fires
Oil tanks on fire three days later

Box Folder
1 9 Parking lot 1/4 mile from explosion to right of picture. Cars covered with sea water and mud
Parking lot one quarter mile from explosion

Box Folder
1 10 Freight cars 1/4 mile from explosion. These were to be loaded onto freight barge
Freight cars one quarter mile from explosion

Box Folder
1 11 Warehouse destroyed. Located between no.1 and 2 slips. Ship in each slip explodex (sic). First ship exploded in no. 1 slip to left of picture
Warehouse destroyed

Box Folder
1 12 Barge 100 feet long that was in no.1 slip. This barge lifted out of water and landed 100 feet inland. Damaged part of barge in picture is fire truck thrown there by second explosion. No. 1 slip is bhind (sic) barge
Barge from slip #1 on land

Box Folder
1 13 Fuel tank 200(?) yards inland from no. 1 slip
Fuel tank near slip #1

Box Folder
1 14 Five story building beside no. 1 slip with photographer standing by slip. Boxcars that were on tracts (sic) I picture were blown to pieces
Five story building beside slip #1

Box Folder
1 15 This is no. 1 slip with barge in the background. This photo was taken three days after explosion showing four bodies floating in slip at this time
Slip #1 with barge in background

Box Folder
1 16 Area between two slips and 200 yards inland. Cement structure at uper (sic) left of picture is grain elevator
Area between two slips

Box Folder
1 17 Small crane in center of picture was destroied (sic) by second explosion. No. 2 slip is behind photographer
Small crane destroyed by second explosion

Box Folder
1 18 No. 2 slip. No. 1 slip is behind boxcars
Slip #2 with boxcars in background

Box Folder
1 19 No. 2 slip with ship destroyed by second explosion. Yes! That is me taking moveing (sic) pictures of the distruction (sic)
Slip #2 with ship destroyed in second explosion

Box Folder
1 20 Aerial shot of Texas City
Aerial shot of Texas City, Image 2

Box Folder
1 21 Aerial shot of Texas City
Aerial Shot of Texas City, Image 1