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Thiokol Memorial Museum

Tragedy struck Camden County more than 40 years ago, with a plant explosion killing 29 and injuring another 50. The victims were primarily women of color. Today, the Thiokol Memorial Museum, located at 115 South Lee Street in Kingsland, honors the lives and legacies of the over 600 employees who worked at the Woodbine Thiokol Chemical Plant during its 17-year existence. The museum documents the plant’s history, including the events leading to the explosion in February 1971. Considered to be one of the worst industrial disasters in the US, this explosion forever changed the region and country, spawning the creation of OSHA (Occupational  Safety and Health Administration), the inclusion of EMS (Emergency Medical Services) in fire services, and Tort Reform that led to better compensation for disaster victims, such as those received after the September 11th attacks. 

The 36-building Woodbine Thiokol Chemical Plant originally opened in 1964, manufacturing rocket engines for America’s Space program launched out of Florida. As funding for the space program waned, the plant began manufacturing Army munitions for the Vietnam War. The company advertised in the local papers that it needed about 55 female workers for the facility. Eventually, about 60 women (mostly Black) would work at the plant, assembling flares that illuminated the night sky for soldiers to see the enemy whenever the soldier detonated the munition’s tripwire. The women employed by Thiokol were hopeful and excited to work at the facility since there were limited opportunities at the time for women of color, and “good jobs” were scarce in the area.  Before the Thiokol plant’s opening, most Black women in the region labored in local seafood factories, worked as housekeepers in local hotels, or toiled on nearby farms. The women saw the plant as a way to improve their circumstances, creating a better life for themselves and their families.  

Unfortunately, fires were commonplace along the assembly line. Always quickly extinguished, most workers thought that fires were a small hazard of the job, with the company assuring employees that there was no  chance of an explosion due to the Army’s classification of the munitions. However, the fire on February 3,  1971, would be different, eventually igniting over 56,000 flares stored throughout the building, causing three explosions that blew pieces of the building a mile away. Devastatingly, most workers remained in the building, thinking someone would quickly extinguish the fire as they had previously. The blast killed 29 people that day, leaving more than 50 others physically and emotionally injured and a community destroyed. Reports say that tremors from the explosion were felt in Jacksonville, FL, some 50 miles away. Sadly, the plant received notice of the Army’s reclassification of the flares from Class 2 (a fire hazard) to Class 7 (an explosive) three weeks after the disaster.  

In 1972, victims and the families of the deceased began legal action against the Thiokol Corporation and the US Government, with court documents showing that both entities knew about the misclassification of the  munitions from independent testing performed by each party months before the explosion while failing to  communicate their findings to each other. However, Georgia law at the time capped compensation amounts owed to victims by prohibiting employees from seeking additional payments while covered under workers’  compensation insurance. Despite the grave misclassification of the munitions by the Army, the US government felt that the victims had no right to legal claims. Injured victims and grieving families sued the government  under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which waived federal government immunity in cases involving monetary damages paid for personal injury, loss of property, or death caused by a government employee while  performing their job. After 17 years of litigation, several severely maimed employees finally received  compensation in the low six-figure. Others received only tens of thousands of dollars (even though numerous victims lost their ability to work again), and according to some reports, many affected by the blast never  received any compensation. The low compensation amounts in the Thiokol disaster cases triggered significant reforms in Tort law, as victims of governmental negligence eventually received higher monetary payouts as greater values were placed on severe injuries and the loss of human life. 

The Thiokol Memorial Museum is open to the public Monday-Friday from 10 am – 2 pm, offering educational tours and hosting school groups in remembrance of the disaster and those lost. The museum currently  features eight exhibits with more than 350 items related to the plant’s history and the tragedy. The Thiokol  Memorial Project (the non-profit that operates the museum) actively honors the lives of those employees killed at the plant (30 in total, including those who died in 1971 and another person who died in 1973 while producing a different munition). Since the Project and Museum’s inception, the non-profit has hosted an annual  remembrance event on the disaster’s anniversary and spearheaded the dedication of Interstate 95 Exit 7 on I 95 in Camden County as “The Patriots of Thiokol Memorial Interchange” by the Department of Transportation. The Project also produced a historical booklet and a documentary, Remembering Woodbine

To learn more about the explosion, the victims, and its effect on the surrounding community, please visit the following sites: 

Savannah Morning News 
Tripwire, a seven-episode podcast: 

Savannah Morning News and Savannah State University 
Tripwire Panel – The history of the 1971 Thiokol explosion in Woodbine, Georgia:


Corley, L. (2021, February 12). Thiokol Explosion: 50 Years Later, Families Seek to be Remembered. The Current GA.

Dennis, Z., & Guan, N. (2023, February 2). In 1971, 29 people died in an explosion in Georgia. 52 years later, their story is being told. Savannah Morning News. woodbine-georgia-remembered/69858529007/

Georgia Department of Economic Development. (2023). Thiokol Memorial Museum. Official Georgia Tourism & Travel Website | Explore culture/museums/thiokol-memorial-museum

Grillo, J. (2017, August 30). The Thiokol factory explosion is a largely forgotten tragedy. Survivors want to change that. Atlanta Magazine. explosion-forgotten-survivors-want-change/

Muller, B., & Patrick, S. (2021, February 3). Victims of Thiokol plant explosion remembered 50 years later. WJXT. remembered-50-years-later/

Scardino, A. (1986, July 20). A Tragedy in South Georgia. The New York Times.

Schrader, E. (2022, June 10). Reclaiming history: Museum documents deadly explosion that devastated a black community in Georgia. Southern Poverty Law Center. devastated-black-community-georgia

Thiokol Memorial Project – Visit Kingsland, Georgia. Visit Kingsland, Georgia – Travel and visitor information for the Kingsland, Georgia area. (2023, August 25).

Thiokol Memorial Project. (2023, February 1). “Remembering Woodbine” – A Documentary of the 1971 Thiokol Chemical Plant Explosion. Savannah Morning News. thiokol-chemical-plant-explosion/11154369002/

Thiokol Memorial Project 2015. (2015). Thiokol Memorial Project.

United States v. Aretz. Justia Law. (2023). court/1981/37389-1.html

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