Texas City 1947 Disaster Photographs

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Last Updated: 2021-03-04

These 21 black and white photographs document the aftermath of the “Texas City Disaster,” an industrial catastrophe that killed well over 500 people on April 16, 1947. Images include aerial views, oil tanks on fire, blown-out freight cars, damaged houses and other buildings, destroyed barges, boat slips strewn with debris, and burned, wrecked cars covered with ashes.

The photographs were taken by an unknown individual between April 16 and April 21, 1947. Each digital image includes a description transcribed directly from the original photo album, complete with any misspellings. The album itself has been disbound and the photographs removed for preservation purposes.

The Texas City Disaster has been called the worst industrial disaster in American history. The SS Grandcamp, carrying ammonium nitrate, caught fire early in the morning and exploded, wiping out the entire dock area, a nearby chemical plant, small businesses, grain warehouses, and many oil and chemical storage tanks. Flying debris ignited several smaller fires and explosions, and a fifteen-foot tidal wave caused by the blast swept the dock area. The docked SS High Flyer, which was also carrying ammonium nitrate, subsequently caught fire, was towed 100 feet out, and exploded that night.

Damage from the Texas City Disaster was devastating. Although the exact number of people killed may never be known, the ship's anchor monument records 576 persons known dead. Property damage was immense, with over 1,000 residences and buildings throughout Texas City damaged or destroyed by the concussion from the explosion.

Information for this description was derived from the Handbook of Texas Online and the book The Texas City Disaster, 1947 by Hugh Stephens, published by the University of Texas Press.

The original materials are available in UH Libraries' Special Collections in the Texas City Disaster Photographs.

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