Re: Twenty million M80 ‹ BOOM. Kent Fireworks

I wonder if the Chicago factory mentioned in the Times article was the

same one that blew up catastrophically in 1972 -

I can find no reports of Illinois firework plant accidents/explosions
for 1954. By da — there is a web sit on Illinois explosions!

However, the three fwks accidents are all from the NY Times.

Here dobe a consolation prize —

American Pyrotechnist: A Monthly Fireworks Journal
Volume 13, Number 3 March, 1980 Issue Number 139

A Report to the Illinois General Assembly by the Illinois
Legislative Investigating Commission, June 1974
(Editor's Review)

[I own a copy of la report - I used this as it was
already on my HD./djh/]

What precipitated this year-long investigation and report? The reason, as
stated in the introduction:

"Every year from 1970 through 1973 a fireworks company plant [in Illinois]
has exploded. A total of seven persons have died, 39 persons have been
seriously injured, and many millions of dollars of property damages
resulted from these four plant explosions, and display accidents. Not one
of these plants ever obtained a Certificate of Registration from the Illinois
State Fire Marshal, in violation of law. And only one had ever been
inspected by that office prior to the tragedies

In view of this, it's not surprising that the often-repeated theme of the
report is to lay blame on the State Fire Marshal's Office for failure to
enforce the licensing and inspection duties incumbent upon it in this
regard, or even to keep adequate records of those investigations it did
conduct. In practically every instance, that office stated, unbelievably, that
it didn't even know of the existence of the plant until it blew up!

The incidents covered in the report involved: Carpentersville Fireworks
Company, Huntley, on March 6, 1970; Continental Fireworks Co., Pisgah,
May 17, 1971; Melrose Display Fireworks Co., Orland Park, March 6,
1972, and Worldwide Fireworks Co., McHenry, on June 9, 1973. In
addition, the Commission investigated an accident during a public
fireworks display at Wauconda on July 4, 1972, which killed one person
and injured eight others (conducted by Worldwide) and the explosion of a
discarded aerial shell on May 30, 1973, at the Carpentersville Fireworks
plant that seriously injured two persons.

Before touching on the specific accidents that precipitated the
investigation and report, we should mention that pages 109 through 158
contain a very complete survey of fireworks companies in Illinois, including
the names of the owners and associates, the kinds of business conducted
and the types of fireworks handled (Class-B & C, etc.) and rather
extensive histories of the firms. It is noted that up until 1971 there were 12
such companies in existence in the state:

Illinois Fireworks Co., Danville; Liberty Display Fireworks Co., an affiliate
of Illinois, also at Danville; World Fireworks Co., another Illinois Fireworks
affiliate in the same city; New Melrose Fireworks Display Co., Huntley
(formerly Melrose Display Fireworks Co. of Orland Park); Osco Fireworks
Co. at Osco; Acme Specialties Co., River Grove; Star Fireworks Mfg. Co.,
Danville; Thearle Duffield Fireworks Co., Chicago; Carpentersville
Fireworks Co., Huntley; Continental Fireworks Co., Pisgah, and Worldwide
Fireworks Co., McHenry. (The Melrose & New Melrose companies are
apparently counted as two firms.)

Thearle Duffield went out of existence in 1971; Carpentersville was taken
over in 1972 by New Melrose; Continental never resumed operations after
its plant exploded in 1971, and Worldwide disbanded after a 1973
explosion, so that the report deals with the remaining seven firms still
active during the period covered. These are:

Illinois Fireworks Co., Danville, founded in 1919 by Joseph and Paul
Porcheddu, Italian immigrants. It was first called the Illiana Fireworks Co..,
but later the brothers split up, and Joseph established Illinois Fireworks,
while Paul started World Fireworks. In 1940 one of the first certificates of
registration in the state was issued to Illinois Fireworks Co. Present
owners are Joseph W. and Frederick C. Porcheddu, sons of the first
Joseph, who also own Liberty and World Fireworks, really a family
conglomerate resulting from numerous previous ownership transfers too
long to enumerate here, but all within the Porcheddu family. Interestingly,
the cover of the report features a photo of shell bursts credited to Illinois
Fireworks Co.

Of the three firms, only World Fireworks manufactures Class-B display
fireworks, along with some Class-C, which are "sold" to the other two as
the situation requires, and vice-versa. Some of these are sold to outside
firms as well.

The New Melrose Fireworks Display Co. is owned by Anthony T. Carto-
lano and located at Huntley on the site of the previous Carpentersville
Fireworks Co., which he purchased in 1973 from the heirs of the late Louis
Maretti. The firm manufactures both Class-B and Class-C fireworks and
allegedly makes M-80s, according to the report. It also notes that the
company was first certified in August of 1973 by the State Fire Marshal,
who said he was unaware of its existence until after an explosion at the
plant in March 1972. (As previously noted, this is only one of many such

The Osco Fireworks Co., incorporated in 1970, is owned by Calvin Vin-
strand in the village of Osco as a sideline to his pump repair business.
Since the late 1960s his operations have consisted mainly of assembling,
fireworks components into display pieces rather than actual manufacture
from raw materials, but Illinois authorities have interpreted such operations
as "fireworks manufacture" requiring a certificate. The firm was
incorporated in 1970.

Acme Specialties Co. in River Grove, incorporated in 1939, is said to be
the largest manufacturer of sparklers in Illinois and one of the largest in
the U.S. It also deals in Class-C fireworks, but no Class-B. The firm is
operated by Lawrence A. Callen (formerly Cohen), Marjorie Callen and
Louis P. Landerman.

Star Fireworks Manufacturing Co. in Danville, founded in 1946 by Albert B.
Colleen and incorporated in 1951, is owned and operated by his son
Albert J. Colleen, Antonette J. Colleen, and Maynard DeWitt Jr. Its
operations are devoted entirely to the hand manufacture of aerial shells for
public display, no Class-C.

Chapter 1 of the report details the various explosions investigated:

Worldwide Fireworks Co., June 9, 1973, with seven people injured and
much damage to surrounding homes, ascribed to storage of fireworks in
excess of the licensed amount (1,400 pounds) in trailers parked too close
to each other, and probable initiation by spontaneous combustion of
imported Brazilian shells containing potassium chlorate. The plant had
been inspected by the State Fire Marshal two days previously and cited
for four safety violations. Ironically, a representative of Pyrotronics Corp.,
Anaheim, Cal., had visited the plant after an offer by owners Landerman,
Callen and Robert Van Schoick to sell stock in the plant; but Pyrotronics
President W. Patrick Moriarty, on learning of the unsafe storage
conditions, had not only declined the offer but telephoned Callen and
Landerman to warn them of the likelihood of a resulting explosion. As the
report says: "His tragic prediction came true. "

Melrose Fireworks Display Co., March 6, 1972, with the death of 3
employees and injuries to 12 others and 4 non-employees, in which 17 of
the plant's 19 buildings were totally destroyed. The remains of two
employees were so disfigured and scattered as to preclude identification.
The exact cause was unknown but said to be probably the ignition of loose
flash powder on the floor of a room where M-80s were being loaded, plus
the accumulation of too much powder in the work area. Owner Cartolano
was cited as "grossly negligent," but, states the report, "The State Fire
Marshal must also share blame for this tragic explosion. Had [his office]
performed their inspectional duties, the explosion might possibly been
averted. [Their excuse is] that they were ignorant of the company's
existence until the explosion occurred." It notes that such ignorance was
"inconceivable" in the case of a plant that covered several acres of land
and had been in existence for sixteen years!

Carpentersville Fireworks Co., May 27, 1970, with 3 people seriously
burned and 3 buildings destroyed. The blast was attributed to ignition of
black powder on the floor of a workroom when an employee rolled another
drum of powder over it. The company had never obtained the required
Certificate of Registration nor ever been inspected by the State Fire
Marshal's office, says the report.

Continental Fireworks Co., May 17, 1971, causing the death of owner
Dominick Shalla, 75, and two other employees, with five others injured, 8
of the 21 buildings, 7 automobiles, 2 trucks and a trailer destroyed. The
Commission came to the conclusion that the blast was due to ignition 'by
friction of the "flammable powder" Shalla was pressing into tubes and that
its severity was attributable to the excess amount of powder in the
workroom. Again, it could find no evidence that the State Fire Marshal had
ever inspected the Continental plant.

New Melrose Fireworks Display Co., May 30, 1973, explosion of a "dud"
aerial shell that employees had dumped into a pond on the plant
premises. Two brothers, 14 and 15, had retrieved it, carried it about 800
feet away from the plant, cut it open, poured some of the powder on the
ground and ignited it when the explosion occurred, severely injiring both
of them. Blame for the incident was placed on owner Cartolano for leaving
the shell exposed and accessible in the pond, although it was 20 feet
inside a chain-link fence, with two guard-dogs running loose!

Bangs lake Park, Wauconda, July 4, 1972, explosion of 2 shells in the
mortars during a display conducted by Robert Van Shoick, one of which
killed his assistant, 24-year-old Edward Bulger. 15 steel mortars were in
use, buried in the sand at the beach, and the Commission concluded that
moisture had seeped into the tubes, making the shells defective.
(Probably it dampened the lift-charge, so that only the shell itself
exploded.) The first blast left a crater 5 feet wide and 112 feet deep; the
second, fatal, one left a 2- by 3-foot hole and scattered mortar fragments
as far as 112 blocks away. Eight other persons were injured. The
Commission noted that the mortars were not sandbagged and reported
Van Schoick as guilty of "gross negligence" for not stopping the display
after the first explosion.

Chapter 2 deals with the Commission's monitoring of fireworks displays