Almost Yesterday: Explosion at Fayville
It seems like Almost Yesterday that the Aetna Powder Company plant at Fayville, Illinois exploded. The force of the explosion in the small community directly across the Mississippi River from Commerce, Missouri, was so powerful that it was felt in Cairo, Illinois, Paducah, Kentucky, and Poplar Bluff, Sikeston, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Most residents of the region thought they had experienced an earthquake.
Early in the twentieth century Fayville was the home of the largest industrial facility in Southern Illinois, producing dynamite and nitroglycerine. By 1920 three hundred men were employed at the plant, with plans for production requiring more than 1,000 workers. Although there were inherent dangers for those working with explosives, pay was much above average and there was no shortage of labor at the plant.
The Fayville explosives were in great demand in the coal mines of Southern Illinois, the recently cleared swamplands of Southeast Missouri, and in World War I.
In the middle of the afternoon of April 7, 1920, four men were at work in the nitroglycerine storehouse when something unexpected occurred, resulting in the explosion of 12,000 pounds of the highly explosive material. The four men were killed, their bodies never found. Many others were injured. Physicians were called to the plant from Cairo, Sikeston, and Paducah.
Most of the buildings at the plant were destroyed or damaged by the blast. The power plant was severely damaged, and the Aetna property was soon transferred to the Hercules Explosives Corporation, a branch of the Du Pont Company, which rebuilt a number of the facility’s structures. But, in 1923 that plant experienced two serious explosions, resulting in the death of employees and severe structural damage.
By 1930 the explosives industry of Fayville, Illinois, came to an end.