It was on June 22nd, 1901 that fireworks and gunpowder exploded in Paterson, killing at least 12 people (some reports at the time listed 17 dead). The explosion occurred in a store on the first floor of a four story tenement building. The first floor housed the stationery shop of Abraham Rittenberg, he was later arrested for the disaster.

According to accounts of the day, Rittenberg’s son was handling a packet of firecrackers when one went off. That started a chain reaction as other fireworks (mainly firecrackers and Roman candles) started to explode as well, causing a fire to engulf the building, but the boy successfully escaped, moving additional fireworks out of the store.

According to, Rittenberg typically sold fireworks out of his shop for the 4th of July, and, for whatever reason, had an unusually large stock in 1901. While Rittenberg was found to have more powerful explosives, it was determined that they were being stored across the street and weren’t involved in the conflagration.

As points out, at the time, the Paterson Times reported that an entire city block was destroyed, saying "A volcano in action could not have wrought more ruin and desolation,” and “Every occupant of the entire block lost everything they had in this world except the clothes they had on their backs.”

While an inquest found that Rittenberg was responsible for the explosion and fire (he also lost two children and his mother-in-law), be was found not criminally liable for the deaths.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Doyle. Any opinions expressed are Bill Doyle's own.

Travel back in time to a colorized Atlantic City circa 1919

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