The Hoboken Docks Fire of 1900 was one of the most devastating fires in New Jersey history, killing at least 326 people. The fire started on June 30th on the piers run by the Norddeutscher (North German) Lloyd Shipping Company (NDL). It is believed the fire started with some cotton bales that were stored on the wharf and “developed rapidly in a great conflagration."

The fire spread to flammable liquids stored on the dock, including turpentine and oil causing explosions along the piers. Three of them burned down to the water line, leaving a clearing of blackened tops of piles and a gnarled mass of iron beams. Warehouses along the pier were destroyed as were several small craft along the water, but the major loss of life occurred on NDL’s three ocean liners that were docked at the piers.

Both crew members and visitors were trapped on the ships and while heroic rescue efforts were attempted there was still a great loss of life with scores of bodies burned beyond recognition. There were also contemporary reports of “shameful actions” of tugboat operators not responding to the tragedy and further refusing to rescue people struggling in the Hudson if they couldn’t pay.

The trans-Atlantic liners continued to smolder for days. It is estimated that the losses from the fire exceeded $10 million. A German investigation concluded that the exact cause of the fire could not be determined and that is was most likely due to carelessness. They also determined that had the tugboat operators done more to tow the ocean liners promptly, much loss of life could have been avoided.

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.

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