So long as the use of steam continues to extend, and the causes which lead to explosions are permitted to remain, the number and frequency of these disasters must be expected to increase. In reading the reports of boiler explosions which almost daily reach us, we find a very large proportion of them referable to causes in no way connected with the original construction of the boilers, but to causes which have come into existence through carelessness or mismanagement. Here a valve is stuck fast, and there a piece of bungling patchwork has been applied, or a boiler has been altered in form and the stays removed in the alteration have not been replaced, although the change may have made them all the more necessary. In another -case the boiler may have been over-heated, and so on through the entire category of causes of danger too w8ll known to be dwelt upon at length. Now either the conditions un£er which a boiler may be safely worked are too manifold and complex to be complied with, or there is gross culpability connected with nine tenths of the ' explosions which occur. If, like nitro-glycerin, a boiler were likely to explode under the most ordinary circumstances oftreatment, if it were a matter of extreme difficulty to secure proper care in their use, and when every thing had been attempted to secure immunity from explosion, the risk remained that there might still be something left undone, which, if undiscovered, would render the previous caution of no avail, there would be more excuse. But this is not, the case.- A well-constructed boiler is not essentially such a terribly destructive agent as to. endanger the lives of all who come near it. The conditions of safety are few and easily complied with. The care demanded in its use is not more than can be easily given, and the want of proper attention to the simple requirements of the case can be regarded in no other light than that of criminal neglect. It is not our intention to enter upon the much-discussed topic of the ultimate causes of boiler explosions.. There are certainly cases wherein . all the conditions of safety seem to be fully supplied, and yet explosions. occur. In such cases we must look for causes among those which have been treated by various authors and which we believe are mostly faults- of construction. No amount of care can obviate dangers from this cause, but we have already said that cases of this kind are comparatively rare. If, then, want of proper care in the management of boilers be admitted to be criminal, we submit that there should be a severer code adopted to enforce proper care. A proprietor should not be permitted to run a boiler which is in an unsafe condition, and ignorance should not be allowed as a mitigation of neglect. There ought to be a system of rigid inspection adopted in this country, and it should be enforced by law, the expenses of which might be defrayed by paid licenses from the owners of boilers, who should be prohibited from running a boiler a single day after it is condemned by the proper authorities. Any violation of this law should incur severe penalties. We have a system of inspection for marine boilers, but there are hundreds of boilers on land to one on water, and many of them are in charge of men who are utterly unfit for the work. Whatever of supervision exists under the present system—and, if we mistake not, there is something of the kind provided for on the statute books of most of the States —it is certainly very inefficient ; so much so as almost to amount to nothing. This is not only evident from the number of explosions which occur, but still more evident from the condition of a large proportion of the stationary boilers scattered over the country. It is time this matter was more vigorously taken in hand, and some efficient efforts made to reduce the number of accidents arising from this source. It would not, it seems to us, be difficult to draft a law providing for systematic inspection and summary action when compliance with its requirements should be refused.
This article was originally published with the title "Boiler Explosions" in Scientific American 21, 20, 313 (November 1869)