New Zealand, 1930: the year of the “explosive pants” affair

“How are pants going to explode?” » Many will ask themselves the question after reading the title of this article. Well, pants can indeed explode (well, more or less) and to prove it here I come with another one of those stories in which this reality exceeds fiction, which has been circulating for a long time but which I personally did not know about ( and surely many others like me).

The events which concern us took place early in 1930 when unease and fear spread among the uncouth graziers and farmers of New Zealand as, for no apparent reason, the pants of many of them burst into virulent flames. A veritable “epidemic of explosive pants” was advancing, leaving behind injuries of all kinds and even deaths, what was happening?

The enigma did not last long because the cause of this mystery was quickly found which upset these brave people of the countryside: a weedkiller whose main ingredient was sodium chlorate, a substance which, when combined with organic materials (such as cotton and wool fibers from pants), results in a highly flammable mixture that needs very little to burn. Well, we have the culprit, but logic tells us that there are still several unanswered questions and mainly one: if this herbicide was so dangerous, how come farmers and ranchers started using it? buy in bulk?

To answer this question we have to go back to the 1920s, when dairy farming in New Zealand began to spread across the country, along with a plague of a plant poisonous to livestock, known as Santiago weed, also did. This new industry, dairy farming, continued to grow, and the more it progressed, the more urgent it was to find something that would once and for all exterminate this pesky livestock-harming weed.

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Finally, in 1930, an official from the Ministry of Agriculture wrote an article in which he commented that there was an infallible herbicide against Santiago grass, which all breeders rushed to buy as soon as they read the text . Yes, indeed, as you think, it was the herbicide that turned farmers' pants into incendiary bombs.

To finish by commenting that the great Mythbusters (Mythbusters in English) carried out a complete investigation into this story in one of the episodes of the show, more precisely in the one entitled “Exploding Trousers, The Great Gas Conspiracy”, which I recommend seeing and thanks to the server who knew this story (and many others).

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