Train Crash for Publicity, 1896

What’s the best way to promote train travel to Texas? Stage a train crash for people to come and see there, of course! Read about what happened on the big day when the guy in charge of health and safety took the day off.

We know that one to two hundred years back, people’s faith in God and hardy living standards made them much more immune to the seductions of health and safety; they could be pretty casual about accidents occurring and should someone get killed in an construction project, for example, then that was what your faith was for.

It was 1896 USA and a marketing guru was tasked with promoting train ticket sales to Texas. What genius idea did he pull out of the bag? To stage a train crash, of course!

Sounding like a scene that should’ve made it into ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’, the stunt was be held in the specially built town of Crush and the idea was to sell tickets so that people could visit the state and make a jamboree of it, with amusements and sideshows to the main event – 50,000 people attended.

The organisers weren’t dismissive of health and safety however, they took it seriously big time. Spectators to the crash rail track had to stay a whole 180m (200yards) back and reporters half that – I bet they couldn’t even make out the names on the drivers’ name badges they were so safely far away.

A specially built track was laid and the stage was set; two 32 tonne steam locomotives would be driven at each other, with time given for the crews to jump off before collision.

A local newspaper report described the scene: “The rumble of the two trains, faint and far off at first, was like the gathering force of a cyclone…They rolled down at a frightful rate of speed… Nearer and nearer as they approached the fatal meeting place the rumbling increased, the roaring grew louder

Then the trains impacted: “…a crash, a sound of timbers rent and torn, and then a shower of splinters… There was just a swift instance of silence and then, as if controlled by a single impulse, both boilers exploded simultaneously and the air was filled with flying missiles of iron and steel varying in size from a postage stamp to half of a driving wheel…

Debris was blown hundreds of metres into the air and panic quickly broke out as the crowd turned and ran. Some of the debris came down among the spectators, killing three people and injuring dozens.

Crowds clamber around the train wreck of America’s deadliest ever stunt (

In the aftermath the train company involved had to pay out tens of thousands of dollars in compensation to the crash victims as headlines of the spectacular event flashed across the country.

Ultimately, the company profited enormously from the botched stunt, however, which goes to show that infamy is often as good as publicity.


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