Fire Service Traditions and History, Firefighting, Hazmat, Terrorism

From the Fire Engineering Vault: Wall Street Bombing

Firefighters respond to 1920 Wall Street bombing

Many people believe that 9/11 was the first terrorist attack in New York City. In reality, as the 1920 Wall Street bombing shows, New York has had a series of deadly ideology-motivated incidents through its history, says Glenn Corbett.

Below from Bobby Halton:

From the Vault offers the cover and editorial comment from the September 29, 1920, issue of Fire and Water Engineering on the September 16, 1920, Wall Street bombing. At such an incident, the editor commented, the police, after calling for ambulances, naturally summon the fire department. “For duties of this nature the fireman is perhaps better fitted than any other individual outside of the physician or surgeon himself. His work is essentially humanitarian at all times, and he naturally enters into the task of assisting the wounded with a gentleness and sympathy that are second to none.”

It’s a sober reminder that the fire service has always been intimately involved in the protection and maintenance of the American republic. The horrific bombing of September 16, 1920, occurred when a horse-drawn wagon pulled up to the curb across the J.P. Morgan building at 23 Wall Street and exploded shortly after the driver fled. The explosives, roughly 100 pounds of dynamite, sent some 500 pounds of metal flying through the crowd, destroying the wagon, killing the horse and 38 innocent people, and injuring another 143.

“The American Anarchist Fighters,” a group founded by Luigi Galleani, were the lead suspects. Galleani had founded a group called the Socialist Italians in Barre, Vermont. He hated America’s social structure and spoke passionately against the existence of God, capitalism, and what he considered a tyrannical government, and in favor of free love. He also openly encouraged his followers to participate in extreme levels of radicalism and violence. This was not the only act of violence for Galleani and his group–they have been credited with planting bombs in homes and businesses since the early 1900s.

After the bombing, J.P. Morgan ordered that the damage to the walls of his building remain unrepaired as a grim reminder of this horrific act of terrorism against the principles and values of American society. As you walk by 23 Wall Street, take a look at that wall, and remember that the fire service has long been engaged in this fight against terrorism and the enemies of those intuitively understood natural commitments we defend as American rights.

Download the Wall Street bombing cover and editorial as a PDF HERE (723 KB).

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