Tuesday, August 23, 2011

United States Cartridge Company

A good portion of registry users are doing historical research unrelated to current real estate matters. I always enjoy assisting these folks in their tasks; sometimes they even share their findings with me. Such is the case with a gentleman interested in a deadly explosion that occurred on July 29, 1903 at the United States Cartridge Company here in Lowell.

According to this monograph by the Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust, here's how the US Cartridge Company came into being:

Established in 1869, the United States Cartridge Company was led by the controversial attorney, politician, and Civil War general Benjamin F. Butler who, at the time, was a Republican congressman from the Fifth Congressional District (Essex County). Butler secured contracts for munitions with the federal government, which aided his fledgling company, initially incorporated with a capital of $25,000. Additionally, the increasing popularity of hunting, especially among the nation’s growing middle class, resulted in an ever-greater demand for shotgun shells and rifle cartridges. The U.S. Cartridge Company quickly grew to rival such major ammunition manufacturers as Remington and Winchester.

The company's main facility was located on Lawrence Street near the intersection with Agawam, but several powder magazines were located further to the southwest in what is now a residential neighborhood bounded by Billerica and Woburn Streets near the Concord River and Route 495 (if you exit 495 at the Woburn Street exit and stop at the combination gas station/Dunkin Donuts right off the exit, you would be very close to the site of the magazines).

On Wednesday, July 29, 1903, tragedy struck when something caused the powder magazines to explode. The effect was devastating. Again, from the Parks and Conservation Trust piece:

The massive blast destroyed or severely damaged about 70 houses in Tewksbury’s Wigginville neighborhood and the shock was felt as far away as Haverhill, where windows broke and doors of homes “swung open with a crash as if by a gust of wind.” A closed-door inquest held at the Lowell Police Court in August was followed by Judge Hadley’s ruling in October that held Paul Butler and his aunt, Blanche Butler Ames, who were the principal partners in U.S Cartridge Company, responsible for the explosion.

I'm not sure what ultimately became of the US Cartridge Company; it certainly exists no more in Lowell. Given the consequences of the explosion, it's surprising that its past existence is not better known.


Michael Ruderman said...

Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust has published on the story of the U.S. Cartridge Company from origins through its closure in 1927:

John Braithwaite said...

The company was sold to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company of Bridegeport, Ct and its equipment shipped there by rail.

Anonymous said...

National Lead purchased the company from the Butler/Ames families in 1919.
The company was moved to Hartford,Ct(Winchester's plant) in 1926 to reduce operational costs.
National Lead sold the company to Olin Industries in 1931 and ceased operations in 1938.

Anonymous said...

According to my grandfather, who was 11 at the time, people thought that a spark from a horse's shoe striking the cobblestone on the street was what ignited the explosion. He was eleven at the time and had wanted to go swimming with his friends but had to stay home to care for a younger brother. All the friends were killed in the explosion.