Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

The Corning Mill
by Barry Brown

Photograph of the Corning Mill
The Corning Mill at the California Powder Works
Photograph Courtesy of The Museum of Art & History @
The McPherson Center, Santa Cruz, CA

The photograph above shows the machinery of the Corning Mill. Corning was the process of pulverizing the slabs of Press Cake into small grains by passing them between zinc rollers. This "corned" material was later sorted by size when passed through a series of progressively smaller sieves. Because corning was a potentially explosive activity, the men were not allowed in the mill while the machinery was in operation. Instead they controlled the process from a nearby concrete structure, sometimes called a "doghouse."

Despite these precautions, however, fatal accidents did occur. On May 29, 1906, the Santa Cruz Surf reported:

Photograph of the Corning Mill after an Explosion
The Corning Mill after an Explosion
Photograph from the Peyton Family Collection

An explosion occurred yesterday afternoon shortly before 4 o’clock, and the powder mill claims two more victims by death—Michael Michaelson, who was killed immediately, and Patrick Ryan, who was fatally burned and died this morning. The explosion occurred in the black powder department in the blasting corning mill, where the powder is shaped into kernels before it is taken to the glazing mill for the finish. Immediately after the explosion, the mill caught fire, the works were closed down and the men were called to fight the flames.

They found the body of Michaelson black and charred in the ruins. He was a native of Norway and had not been in this country a great while. Ryan was near the outer edge, and was thrown about a hundred yards. He was frightfully burned, and it was realized immediately that the burns were fatal. He was taken to his residence at High and Mission streets, where he died this morning. Ryan, a native of County Galway, Ireland, was 42 years of age and leaves a wife and family. He had resided in Santa Cruz for sixteen years.

The men had finished their regular work hours and were working overtime when the explosion occurred. Like all explosions in this department, no one lived to tell the tale of why it happened.

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View similarly tagged articles:

dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River


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