Explosion in the Dry Cleaning Plant

December 31, 1943

Mr. James V. Bennett, Director,
Bureau of Prisons, Washington, D.C.
Report of Explosion in Dry Cleaning Plant, Dec. 31, 1943.

About 9:30 A.M., December 31, 1943, Mr. Miller, Associate Warden, told me that there had been an accident in the Dry Cleaning Plant, apparently an explosion. Mr. Miller and I went down to the plant immediately, inspected the premises and questioned Mr. Manning, and Mr. McDermott and the inmates.

Mr. McDermott and the inmates had already opened the doors to the room in order to get the fumes out. They had already cleaned up the mess that had been made ont he floor and the near by tables, and picked up the garments that had been scattered and had them all folded and in good order.

The only visible damage was the broken tank and parts to it, and one broken light of glass that had been struck by a piece of pipe projected from the tank by the explosion.

Mr. Manning and Mr. McDermott had previously been in touch with the firm supplying the solvent because it did not seem to be working properly, though they had no serious trouble until yesterday morning. After the explosion Mr. Manning got in touch with the Patek & Company and they promised to have their chemist over here Monday morning. We resumed work in the shop yesterday afternoon and will be able to get along, but in order to get up to full efficiency we will have to get a new tank, but perhaps while waiting we will be able to make repairs to the one that was damaged.

Mr. Manning and Mr. McDermott are under the impression that some foreign matter in the solvent caused the problems.

I am enclosing copies of the reports made to me by Mr. Manning and Mr. McDermott in which you will note that Mr. McDermott states, "McMillian, No. 568, got fluid in his eyes***", but after Dr. Ritchey examined him, and finding no trouble except the natural fright that would come from the suddeness of the explosion, McMillian returned to work.


J.A. Johnston


December 31, 1943

To: Warden James A. Johnston, United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz, California.

RE: Report of explosion in Dry Cleaning Plant.

See attached report written by Mr. McDermott to me in reference to the explosion of the carbon tetrachloride distilling unit in the Dry Cleaning Plant. I was in the Dry Cleaning Plant at 9 AM., and things were apparently running in good shape. I left and went to the front office and heard what had happened after I left, and I immediately returned to the Dry Cleaning Plant.

It is my opinion that there is some foreign matter in the solvent which cause the explosion. I will have the Chemist from Patek & Company to give us the reason for our trouble. I have contacted them by phone, and I expect to have a representative here Monday, January 3, 1944, then I can give a more detailed report of the cause.

C.J. MANNING, Business Manager


December 31, 1943

TO: Mr. C.J. Manning, Business Manager, Federal Prison Industries, Inc., Alcatraz, Calif.

RE: Report of explosion in Dry Cleaning Plant

Started to heat still at 8:15 A.M. using 6-pound pressure, and steam was coming out of safety valve very lightly, temperature was 210 degrees. Have had trouble several times in the last six weeks, five drums of carbon tetrachloride causing the same trouble. Time of accident was 9:15 A.M.

The usual temperature for distilling this solvent is 180 degrees, with less than five pound pressure, whereas these drums require 210 degrees, and 6 pound pressure.

Mr. Manning and myself reported this condition to Patek & Company on two occasions, and sent over samples of the solvent (Carbontetrachloride).

In the last shipment of five drums of solvent the first one used was O.K. but the second one was faulty.

Mr. Manning asked me to go up and talk to Patek & Company which I did, I talked to the chemist and he said he knew it took a high boiling point to distill this carbon tetrachloride, but as yet he did not know what caused the trouble.

The first thing I done after the accident was to get all the inmates out side in the open air, and try to get in touch with Mr. Manning and the Captain. In the mean time Evans #492 from the Electric shop came in and shut off the machines.

McMillen #568 got fluid in his eyes and was sent to the hospital at 9:20 o'clock A.M., all inmates returned to work at 1 P.M.

E.J. McDermott, Shop Foreman