May 22, 1919: A quiet, mid-spring early evening in eastern Iowa was shaken violently by a blast on the west side of the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids. It would be felt as far as 30 miles away and its impact resonated throughout the entire city of Cedar Rapids. Douglas Starch Works had exploded, killing 43 workers and injuring 30 more.

The response was swift by the Cedar Rapids Fire Department as flames and dust shot as much as 5,000 feet into the air. As a crowd gathered, onlookers were told to get anything they could from their homes to use as stretchers. An emergency hospital was set up by the Red Cross, across the street from the plant. Those requiring treatment weren't just people inside the plant. More than 200 homes were damaged and members of families who lived nearby were among those hurt. Across the river from the plant, a child was killed when they were thrown from a couch by the blast.

Brothers George and Walter Douglas owned Douglas Starch Works until Walter's death on the Titanic in 1912. George still owned the plant, as well as what is now known as Brucemore Mansion, when the 1919 tragedy in Cedar Rapids occurred.

Estimates of damage were as much as $3 million, or more than $45.5 million in today's dollars. I mentioned the impact was felt across the entire city. The photos below are from downtown buildings that had their windows shattered by the explosion. The Cedar Rapids Country Club, three-and-a-half miles away, had windows shattered and doors blown open.

There were 109 people working in Douglas Starch Works when the explosion occurred. Ten of the 43 who were killed would never have their bodies recovered. Partial remains of ten others are buried in a grave at Linwood Cemetery, with the marker below that reads "Erected in Memory of Employees of Douglas Company Who Lost Their Lives - May 22, 1919."

Monday, May 20, a wreath-laying ceremony will be held at Linwood Cemetery (520 Wilson Ave SW) at 3 p.m. It's free to attend, but an RSVP is requested, due to space limitations. To RSVP, email There will also be a public chalking of areas affected by the Douglas Starch Works explosion on the 100th anniversary itself, May 22. If you'd like to take part, please email the same address:

Douglas Starch Works was located where the Ingredion plant is today, at the corner of 8th Avenue and 1st Street Southwest.

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