Today, Philadelphia Metro WSA mourns the 139 workers, mostly women and girls, killed in the Eddystone Explosion in Delaware County, PA in 1917 100 years ago. The explosion, which likely resulted from unsafe conditions in the Eddystone Ammunition Corporation’s artillery shell plant, was initially blamed on German saboteurs and later on Russians. At the time the workers were working on a rush order to make shells to be used by the Russian white army who were fighting the red army. The blaming of the sabotage on the USSR had a dual effect. It aided US Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer’s desire to attack labor activists, anarchists and socialists, which he did during the infamous “Palmer Raids”.
In addition, blaming the Russians suited the plant owners and management because they didn’t want unsafe conditions in the plant to be exposed to the public. A guard employed in the plant mentioned that one of their machines, which shook explosive into shrapnel shells, had been malfunctioning for weeks, showering sparks on the workers and explosives. (1) In the aftermath of the disaster, the plant owners and politicians used patriotism to convince hundreds more women and girls to work at the factory. In addition the plant owners discriminated against workers of German origin, barring them from employment at the plant.
Philadelphia Metro WSA wants to ensure important Philadelphia-area workers’ and labor history such as this doesn’t get forgotten or swept under the rug. We want to make sure the ill intentions of the politicians and employers involved are brought to light and exposed. And we mourn the hundreds of women and girls whose lives were lost in the midst of a U.S. war effort, fueled by patriotism with no regard for the lives and needs of the ordinary working people involved.
(1) Nash, Jay Robert (1976). Darkest Hours. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 166–167. ISBN 9781590775264.