Tennessee Eastman Explosion, October 4, 1960

Where were you on October 4, 1960-the day of the Eastman Explosion???

***Please remember the photographic images on this site are the property of the Archives of the City of Kingsport and are governed by U.S. and International copyright laws. Please contact the archives for permission to use images or request reproductions***

A massive cloud forms over downtown Kingsport as a result of the explosion.

Fifty years ago on October 4, 1960 an explosion rocked the Tennessee Eastman Company plant. The explosion was centered in the aniline division of the plant. The blast was felt all around the city and even buildings downtown, which are over a mile away, were damaged.

Sixteen people were killed as a result of the explosion and 200 more were injured.

Cloud of smoke from the explosion

Scene outside Holston Valley Community Hospital

Local photographer Thomas McNeer captured excellent shots of the event as it unfolded. 

Taking care of the injured at Holston Valley

Most of McNeer’s photos were taken at Holston Valley Community Hospital where hundreds gathered to check on loved ones, give blood and lend a hand.

Scene from inside the hospital

Holston Valley Community Hospital

People gathered outside of the hospital

Crowd outside the hospital

People gathered at the hospital

Scene from Holston Valley Community Hospital

For more information on the Eastman  Explosion you may want to check out Pete Dykes’ “The Eastman Explosion Tragedy.”

Here is a description of the book~

The sudden unexpected explosion at the Tennessee Eastman Aniline Plant in October, 1960, brought horrific death and destruction to the huge Kingsport industrial complex. Following the shattering blast, nearby storage tanks of chemicals exploded as well, adding to the growing piles of rubble and debris that heaped up, burying bodies and body parts in a desolate scene of destruction. Flames spread, and multiple drums of stored material exploded as the heat reached them. Nothing like this had ever happened at the forty year old facility, where more than twelve thousand employees earned their livings. “The Eastman Explosion Tragedy” takes the reader back in time with eyewitness accounts of that terrible day in East Tennessee.

The Archives of the City of Kingsport have several collections that pertain to the Eastman Explosion so come on down to the archives and check them out.

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29 thoughts on “Tennessee Eastman Explosion, October 4, 1960

  1. I was in the back yard on EPark DR. playing and swinging my 2 year old nephew, and the blast was so strong it knocked us down.AT first I thought we had been bombed. My Mother worked at the hospital and was home from work. They called her in. She was a universal donor so she gave blood. We heard rummors if it had got to the next tank I would have blown us off the map. I had classmates who lost family members. Thank God for watching over us.I will never forget that day. My nephew started crying , I told it would be ok!

  2. I was 13 at the time and was in the basement of our house. The explosion forced the windows open.

    My father worked for Eastman, the aniline plant was his responsibility. We did not hear from my father until late that day. There was so much confusion.

    My father knew all those that were lost in the explosion. Later he told us that he was against building the aniline plant because it was a dangerous process and analine was so inexpensive to buy.

    I look back on that time and my family now as an adult and feel the pain of the loss.

  3. I was in school in Knoxville. Remember getting a call from my mother saying my uncle, Jess Ray Shell (Junior) was missing. I remember coming home on the Grayhound bus that night. Only a few parts of him were found the next day.. His widow, my aunt Helen, is in a nursing home.

    • I knew Mr. Shell. My bother and sister-in-law were renting the house next door from them when this happened. Such a sad time.

  4. Pingback: The Day Kingsport Wept-Eastman Explosion October 4, 1960 | Archives of the City of Kingsport

  5. My grandfather, Bernard Arnold, was one of the first of the dead who were found. I never met him but some of the old timers at Eastman shared stories about him when I worked there during college summers. My friend Helen Johnson, who was his daughter-in-law at the time, remembers that her white dogwoods in Lynn Garden bloomed red the next spring.

  6. I was in my backyard, where we were having a party for my 6th birthday. The ground shook, we heard a huge blast, and we then saw the mushroom cloud coming up a couple of miles away to the south. It was during the cold war and we thought maybe we had been bombed. My Dad was a doctor who was home for my party on Tuesday, his afternoon off. He called and found out about the explosion and immediately went in for a long night. I remember staying up late and watching/listening to news reports. Seeing these pictures of the cloud and the hospital brings back memories. I believe the hospital and its entire staff did a great job that day. Kingsport was pretty much a company town back then and the entire community was shaken. Thoughts and prayers today, 50 years later, for those who lost loved ones and colleagues.

    • Standing under a tree on the north east side of the Rock House service station in Surgoinsville Tn. talking to friends when We heard a distance boom. Looked at each other said what was that. That evening We knew.

  7. I remember it as if yesterday. My father worked at TEC but was not near the explosion site. Other family friends were injured, and deaths affected some classmates. The explosion itself shook the mirror of the living room where I was preparing to head out on my bicycle. After an eerie silence, I rode my bike up to Jackson School, the hill, to see the plume of black smoke as shown in the pictures. I still feel a dark chill about this.

  8. My husband was a new resident at HVCH and was on duty. He called to tell me that he didn’t know when he would be able to come home as he would stay to help the injured patients as long as needed. We had a new baby who was resting under a large window when the blast occured. The force of the blast went over our house and broke many windows at the old DB High School just across the street. We were safe.

  9. I was in school at the Miller-Perry School. We heard the explosion, gradually learned about the disaster, and watched the worried faces of the adults. In later years, I was to go to school in town with kids orphaned on that day — Bruce Haney, who was in my D-B class.

    Both of my grandfathers worked at Eastman, and people from elsewhere really have no idea how that company held sway in Kingsport.

  10. I was working in B-112 about one mile south of the explosion. Dust from the pipes in the building was distrubed. There was no damage to the building because we were so far away. We were instructed to go to the parking lot and leave the area immediately. I arrived home at Eden’s Ridge road and my wife and two daughters were watching the smoke from the explosion which could be seen from our front steps.

  11. Pingback: Tennessee Eastman Explosion,1960 | Archives of the City of Kingsport

  12. My great uncle Eugene Shelton was working in the plant during the explosion. I believe he had just showered in the locker room and said after the explosion he was running down the street barely dressed. He passed away this year – I’ll never forget his stories. He said the explosion made him feel like he was back in Germany fighting in the war. So sad.

  13. I was 6 years old when the Eastman exploded. My parents lived on Gravely rd. 4th house on the right as you turned of Bloomingdale. I remember standing on the front porch of our house and could see the flames and the smoke. When the explosin happened it shook the house and the windows. I still have the newspaper from Kingsport Times News. It has been in the family ever since then in excellent shape just a little yellow. It has in the sports section how Yoogie Bera would be a threat in the world series Norman Slater now living in Marion,N.C.

  14. I was 5 and visiting my aunt who lived up the street from the factory. My uncle worked there but survived. I remember us walking to the top of the hill overlooking the plant and seeing flames and explosions shooting into the air. Only now researching this, I am surprised to see how many died. I never knew how bad it was.

  15. Hello, Barter Theatre is presenting Kingsport native, Lori Tate Matthews’ play “October, Before I Was Born” about this event this fall. I have read many of the comments, and my heart goes out to all involved.

    “October Before I Was Born” is set against the backdrop of the TEC explosion, and one family waits for news about the fate of their loved ones. I see many went through the same thing on that day. They pray for strength and courage to face what comes. It is a beautiful piece and was developed by Barter’s Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights. The play will be on Barter’s Main Stage September 27—November 17, 2012. To find out more information, please visit http://www.BarterTheatre.com

  16. I would like to think me and Daddy watched the first Andy Griffith show the night before he died. Yes, I am sure we watched the first Andy Griffith where Aunt Bee moves in and Opie does not accept her. After all, Daddy was on vacation up until that day.

    Mama died September 26, 2012. She never remarried after losing Daddy, so it was just me and her. I can assure you there is nothing inherently wrong with a one-parent home. I do not care to hear people speak badly of one-parent homes. Watch the Andy Griffith show sometime and see.

    Jess Ray Shell III, P.E., R.L.S.

  17. Daddy left us seventeen days before my fifth birthday. I have no brothers or sisters.

    I saw the play “October Before I Was Born” at the Barter the day after Mama died and it hit home.

    Jess Ray Shell III

  18. I was 15 yrs old @ the time & my Dad was a foreman in the S & M Division @ TEC,we were so worried bout him & my brother-n-law Jerry Deel..It seem like hrs. before a taxi cab pulled up & he got out to his 5 girls & son & of course our Mother running to him w/open arms,he had been in the shower @ TEC & glass had fallen in on him…he was bleeding from wounds to his head & arm,our brother-n-law was also ok,but I will never forget that horrible day & the ones who lost their lives..I pray a horrible accident like that will never happen again……wwg

  19. I was at home on E. Center St. when I heard the explosion. I ran outside and looked toward Eastman and I remember saying “my daddy”. I was 5 years old at the time. My father had been in the shower at the time. When it blew up and he ran outside stark naked. He ran across the parking lot and flagged down the car of a young man he did not know, who gave him a ride home. I remember my mother taking a rain coat to the car for him to put on so he could come inside. When he came inside, he took a bath, and my mother picked glass out of his feet. I also remember the constant stream of sirens of ambulances as they drove down Center St. to the hospital.

  20. My father, Tom Finucane, was a chemist in the Research Department at Tennessee Eastman. He was helping troubleshoot the problems at the aniline pilot plant. One big problem was that something was precipitating out of the solution and coating the inside of the pipes. He determined that this was di-nitro-toluene, and warned his supervisors. He was told that it was impossible to make di-nitro-toluene, so he sawed off a section of pipe and sent it to Rochester for analysis. Before the results came back, the plant exploded. I have only just now heard this family story, which my brother Mike said my father told him. I don’t know how accurate it is, or whether the substance in question was indeed DNT.

    • Joe, My dad, Eugene “Teenie” Scott, worked with your dad and I remember him saying many times that “Tom knew there was a problem but nobody would listen to him”. That was such a sad day in the history of Kingsport and could possibly have been prevented. I remember your dad very well as he and my dad were avid birdwatchers.

  21. I was eight. My brother Dick and I were riding our bikes home from the library, and just when we got to Sevier Avenue and Tennessee Street, we heard a boom that made the windows rattle in the public housing apartments on Sevier. Straight down Sevier we could see a monstrous plume of black smoke. Dick immediately rode in that direction, and I followed, catching up with him at Center and reminding him we were not to cross it, to my regret. So we rode home to 1434 Watauga and sat on the porch with the other kids looking out over the valley to the southwest. We could hear the explosions and see immense fireballs rolling around down there by the river. I remember how tiny an airplane looked flying beside the immense column of smoke. Night fell and the explosions continued, lighting up the smoke and Bays Mountain in flashes of reddish orange. I suppose my mother made us go to bed at last. My father went down there to fight the fire and my mother went to the hospital to donate blood, but apparently everyone in town had the same idea. I think my father helped roll up a fire hose, and my mother was sent away with out donating.
    Next day the headlines in the Kingsport Times-News said “Hospital swamped with donors,” as if this were the important news. I don’t recall that there was any serious investigation or that the citizens of Kingsport ever received a satisfactory explanation.

  22. i was 11 years old and sitting on the steps of what used to be called ray lanes store and watched and all the cars and trucks drove by with the wounded in the back, was a terrible day, and 1 i will never forget. still windows in that one part of eastman and still hasnt been r

  23. My dad had just filled out an application and was just leaving the plant when he said the car shook violently. He looked in the rear view mirror and said all he saw was thick black smoke. He was hired two months later and I was born almost a year to the date (October 1, 1961). But my ex-step mother lost a brother.

  24. I’ve heard the story from my grandmother and mom. My grandfather was Doug Sievers, he was head chemist over the science dept. and worked on the Manhatten project. I was told the team he worked with had to do it’s own investigation and were required to do the clean-up. I’m sure it was to keep certain things they were working on from being exposed at least that’s what my grandmother said. She attended so many funerals due to that and some relatives passing the same year she never wore black again. The clean up was a matter of great stress on my grandfather according to Twila.

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