The Kingsland Explosion
In March 1916, World War I was in progress. Although
the United States had not yet entered the war, the
country was assisting its allies with war supplies. The
Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Montreal signed
large contracts with Russia and England for delivery of
shells. An enormous factory was constructed in the
meadowlands, which was then referred to as Kingsland. It
was located on the site of Lyndhurst’s present industrial
park. A brick stack, believed to be the remaining part of
the Foundry, is located in the area bounded by Valley
Brook Avenue, Polito Avenue, and the office buildings on
Wall Street West.
Munitions, including shells, shell cases, shrapnel, and
powder were shipped to Kingsland from over 100
different factories. At the foundry they were assembled
for shipment to Russia. Since it was producing 3 million
shells per month, the Canadian Car and Foundry
Company was a worthy objective for a German saboteur.
To prevent sabotage, the company erected a six-foot
fence that was patrolled by guards, around the clock. All
of the workers, who were forbidden to carry matches,
were searched before entering the plant.
Building 30 was used exclusively for cleaning out shells;
it contained 48 workbenches. On the bench in front of
each employee was a pan of gasoline and a small
rotating machine operated by a belt.
The cleaning process included several steps:
- the shells were dusted with a brush
- a cloth, moistened in the pan of gasoline, was
wrapped around a foot-long piece of wood
- the shell was placed in the rotating machine and
the wood was inserted into the shell as it turned
- a dry cloth was wrapped around the stick and the
shell was dried in a similar manner.
Fire in Building 30
On a bitter cold January 11, 1917, a fire started in
Building 30. In four hours, probably 500,000, three-inch-
high explosive shells were discharged. The entire plant
It was later established that the fire started at the bench
of one of the workers—Fiodoe Wozniak. In an affidavit
Foundry Foreman Morris Chester Musson said:
“I noticed that this man Wozniak has quite a large
collection of rags and that the blaze started in these
rags. I also noticed the he had spilled his pan of alcohol
all over the table, just preceding that time. I also noticed
that someone threw a pail of liquid on the rags or the
table almost immediately in the confusion. I am not able
to state whether this was water or one of the pails of
refuse alcohol under the tables. My recollection,
however, is that there were no pails of water in the
building, the fire buckets being filled with sand. Whatever
the liquid was, it caused the fire to spread very rapidly
and the flames dropped down on the floor and in a few
minutes, the entire place was in a blaze. It was my firm
conviction from what I saw, and I stated, that the place
was set on fire purposely, and that has always been and
is my firm belief.”
Other workmen alleged that the fire began in front of
Wozniak’s wooden roller. One of the company directors,
Mr. Cahan, remarked about Wozniak’s nervous behavior
and contradictions during an interview about the incident.
Wozniak, who admitted that he had served time in the
Austrian Army, was told by Mr. Cahan that he would be
needed in New York as part of the investigation into the
fire. Wozniak, who lived at the Russian Immigrant House
on Third Street in New York City, eluded detectives who
were watching him and disappeared.
The case dragged on for many years and was finally
settled in the 1950s. Germany never admitted guilt, but
paid reparations to the United States.
"Get out or go up!"
A heroine emerged the day of the fire. Kingsland
resident Tessie McNamara, who operated the
company switchboard, was credited with saving many
lives. As the fire raged on, Tessie stayed at the
switchboard that Thursday afternoon. She plugged in
each of the buildings and shouted the warning, “Get
out or go up!”
Thanks to her dedication, no one was killed in the fire.
Escaping workers were able to cross the frozen
Hackensack River or run up Valley Brook Avenue to
safety. The National Special Aid Society later
presented Miss McNamara with a check to honor her
for her bravery.
The Lyndhurst Historical Society has created a vest
pocket park dedicated to her memory. The park is
located on Clay Avenue, between Valley Brook
Avenue and Wall Street West. The brick stack can be
seen from this park.
Tessie McNamara, above, was
honored for her bravery.
The smokestack is all that remains
of the Canadian Car & Foundry.