New London School Explosion, 1937-1937 | East Texas Research Center

By Linda Reynolds

Collection Overview

Title: New London School Explosion, 1937-1937Add to your cart.

ID: A/203

Extent: 2.0 Boxes

Arrangement: Consists of 2 oversize boxes.

Subjects: Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.), Consolidated School (New London, Tex.) -- Explosion, 1937, Explosions -- Texas -- New London, Scrapbooks

Languages: English

Scope and Contents of the Materials

Scrapbook of newspaper clippings from various Texas newspapers about the school explosion.

Collection Historical Note

In 1937 New London, Texas in northwest Rusk County, had one of the richest rural school districts in the United States. Community residents in the East Texas oilfield were proud of the beautiful, modern, steel-framed, E-shaped school building. At 3:05 P.M. Lemmie R. Butler, instructor of manual training, turned on a sanding machine in an area which, unknown to him, was filled with a mixture of gas and air. The switch ignited the mixture and carried the flame into a nearly closed space beneath the building, 253 feet long and fifty-six feet wide. Immediately the building seemed to lift in the air and them smashed to the ground. Walls collapsed. The roof fell in and buried its victims in a mass of brick, steel and concrete debris. The explosion was heard four miles away, and it hurled a two-ton concrete slab 200 feet away, where it crushed a car.

Workers began digging through the rubble looking for victims. Floodlights were set up, and the rescue operation continued through the night as rain fell. Within seventeen hours all victims and debris had been taken from the site. Mother Francis Hospital in Tyler canceled its elaborate dedication ceremonies to take care of the injured. The Texas Funeral Directors sent twenty-five embalmers. Of the 500 students and forty teachers in the building, approximately 298 died. Some rescuers, students, and teachers needed psychiatric attention, and only about 130 students escaped serious injury. Those who died received individual caskets, individual graves, and religious services.

The most important result of the disaster was the passage of a state odorization law, which required that distinctive malodorants be mixed in all gas for commercial and industrial use so that people could be warned by the smell. The thirty surviving seniors at New London finished their year in temporary buildings while a new school was built on nearly the same site. The builders focused primarily on safety and secondarily on their desire to inspire students to a higher education.

(Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "NEW LONDON SCHOOL EXPLOSION,"

Subject/Index Terms

Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.)
Consolidated School (New London, Tex.) -- Explosion, 1937
Explosions -- Texas -- New London

Administrative Information

Repository: East Texas Research Center

Physical Access Note: The original scrapbook in Box 2 is in poor condition (crumbling) [Access Restricted]. Please use the photocopies of the scrapbook in Box 1.

Related Publications:

The following Universal Newsreels are from the Internet Archive

Thousands Weep

Children Die

Box and Folder Listing

Browse by Box:

[Box 1],
[Box 2],

Box 1Add to your cart.
Folder 1: Photocopies of scrapbookAdd to your cart.
Folder 2: Newspaper articles about the explosion from the Houston Chronicle, Cushing News and the Semi-Weekly Farm News.Add to your cart.


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