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Texas Matters: 80 Years After The New London School Explosion


It was 80 years ago that Texas saw the deadliest school disaster in American history; the explosion at the London Junior-Senior High School, March 18, 1937.  The estimated death toll is about 300 – almost all of them children.

New London, which is in Rusk county in East Texas – and at the time was a boon town because of oil and natural gas. This made New London the richest school district in Texas – but despite that wealth - three months earlier the school board voted to cancel the contract with the United Gas Company to save $300 a month.

Instead the board had a plumber illegally tap into a residue gas line of a local oil company to get siphon off free natural gas.

That gas line connection was faulty and leaked. The school’s basement filled with natural gas and the result was the deadly explosion. In the days following the explosion parents wanted answers. Over 70 lawsuits were filed. They were all dismissed. No school officials were found liable.

David M. Brown is the co-author of the book: “Gone at 3:17: The Untold Story of the Worst School Disaster in American History.” There will be a memorial and a reunion of the survivors of the school explosion at the London Museum and Café in New London Texas on March 18 – 80 years after the blast that took approximately 300 lives.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi