Natural gas explosion kills nearly 300 at Texas school Nearly 300 students in Texas are killed by an explosion of natural gas at their school on this day in 1937. The Consolidated School of New London, Texas, sat in the middle of a large oil and natural gas field. The area was dominated by 10,000 oil derricks, 11 of which stood right on school grounds. The school was newly built in the 1930s for close to $1 million and, from its inception, bought natural gas from Union Gas to supply its energy needs. The school’s natural gas bill averaged about $300 a month. Eventually, officials at Consolidated School were persuaded to save money by tapping into the wet-gas lines operated by Parade Oil Company that ran near the school. Wet gas is a type of waste gas that is less stable and has more impurities than typical natural gas. At the time, it was not completely uncommon for consumers living near oil fields to use this gas. At 3:05 p.m. on March 18, a Thursday afternoon, the 694 students and 40 teachers in attendance at the Consolidated School were looking forward to the final bell, which was to ring in 10 minutes. Instead, a huge and powerful explosion, which literally blew the roof off of the building, leveled the school. The blast was felt by people 40 miles away and killed most victims instantly. People rushed to the scene to pull out survivors; hundreds of injured students were hauled from the rubble. Miraculously, some students walked away unharmed; 10 of these were found under a large bookcase that shielded them from the falling building. First-aid stations were established in the nearby towns of Tyler, Overton, Kilgore and Henderson to tend to the wounded. Reportedly, a blackboard at the destroyed school was found that read, Oil and natural gas are East Texas’ greatest natural gifts. Without them, this school would not be here and none of us would be learning our lessons. The exact cause of the spark that ignited the gas was never found, although it is now known that the gas could have been ignited by static electricity. As a result of this incident, wet gas was required to be burned at the site rather than piped away. 1925 The Tri-State Tornado The worst tornado in U.S. history passes through eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, and southern Indiana, killing 695 people, injuring some 13,000 people, and causing $17 million in property damage. Known as the “Tri-State Tornado,” the deadly twister began its northeast track in Ellington, Missouri, but southern Illinois was the hardest hit. More than 500 of the total 695 people who perished were killed in southern Illinois, including 234 in Murphysboro and 127 in West Frankfort. A tornado is a dark, funnel-shaped cloud containing violently rotating air that develops in climate conditions that, in the United States, are generally unique to the central and southern plains and the Gulf states. The rotating winds of tornadoes can attain velocities of 300 mph, and its diameter can vary from a few feet to a mile. A tornado generally travels in a northeasterly distance at speeds of 20 to 40 mph and usually covers anywhere between one and more than 100 miles. The Tri-State Tornado of 1925–which traveled 219 miles, spent more than three hours on the ground, devastated 164 square miles, had a diameter of more than a mile, and traveled at speeds in excess of 70 mph–is unsurpassed in U.S. history. 1852 Wells and Fargo start shipping and banking company On this day in 1852, in New York City, Henry Wells and William G. Fargo join with several other investors to launch their namesake business. The discovery of gold in California in 1849 prompted a huge spike in the demand for cross-country shipping. Wells and Fargo decided to take advantage of these great opportunities. In July 1852, their company shipped its first loads of freight from the East Coast to mining camps scattered around northern California. The company contracted with independent stagecoach companies to provide the fastest possible transportation and delivery of gold dust, important documents and other valuable freight. It also served as a bank–buying gold dust, selling paper bank drafts and providing loans to help fuel California’s growing economy. In 1857, Wells, Fargo and Co. formed the Overland Mail Company, known as the “Butterfield Line,” which provided regular mail and passenger service along an ever-growing number of routes. In the boom-and-bust economy of the 1850s, the company earned a reputation as a trustworthy and reliable business, and its logo–the classic stagecoach–became famous. For a premium price, Wells, Fargo and Co. would send an employee on horseback to deliver or pick up a message or package. Wells, Fargo and Co. merged with several other “Pony Express” and stagecoach lines in 1866 to become the unrivaled leader in transportation in the West. When the transcontinental railroad was completed three years later, the company began using railroad to transport its freight. By 1910, its shipping network connected 6,000 locations, from the urban centers of the East and the farming towns of the Midwest to the ranching and mining centers of Texas and California and the lumber mills of the Pacific Northwest. After splitting from the freight business in 1905, the banking branch of the company merged with the Nevada National Bank and established new headquarters in San Francisco. During World War I, the U.S. government nationalized the company’s shipping routes and combined them with the railroads into the American Railway Express, effectively putting an end to Wells, Fargo and Co. as a transportation and delivery business. The following April, the banking headquarters was destroyed in a major earthquake, but the vaults remained intact and the bank’s business continued to grow. After two later mergers, the Wells Fargo Bank American Trust Company–shortened to the Wells Fargo Bank in 1962–became, and has remained, one of the biggest banking institutions in the United States.