Black Tom. 1916
Black Tom was a man-made island in New York Harbor adjacent to Liberty Island, a little over 25 acres in area, maintained and governed by Jersey City, New Jersey in 1915. The island was connected to the mainland by a railroad over a causeway, upon which arms manufacturers shipped their wares to the island for sale and lading aboard merchant vessels. Until 1915 it was possible for merchants from any nation to purchase weapons and munitions openly; a change in war conditions which led to the British Naval Blockade of Germany limited the sale of such war materials to ships of the Allied Powers that year.
It also led to Germany retaliating against the United States for providing support to England and the other nations allied against the Kaiser. Not yet ready to declare open warfare against the United States nor unlimited submarine warfare against shipping, the Germans dispatched undercover agents to the Americas with the expressed intent of performing acts of espionage and sabotage to disrupt the flow of war materials to Europe.
Among the agents working for Germany was a Slovakian US Army veteran named Michael Kristoff. Kristoff recruited security guards at the Black Tom site to assist him, all of the conspirators working under the direction of the German Ambassador to the United States, Graf Johann von Bernstorff. Using a type of bomb developed by German intelligence operators known as a pencil bomb (or cigar bomb when disguised as such) German operatives penetrated the Black Tom site and placed their explosives in a huge shipment of small arms ammunition and artillery shells waiting to be loaded onto vessels which would carry it to Imperial Russia, then still fighting Germany.
The Germans set a series of small and relatively harmless fires on nearby piers on the night of July 30, 1916, probably as a diversion which allowed their agents to install the bombs where they would inflict the most harm. The explosion which occurred around 2.00 AM was violent enough to be heard and felt in Maryland, where initially earthquakes were reported.
The Statue of Liberty was damaged sufficiently to cause the torch to be closed to the public, not to be reopened until 1986. At least four people were killed in the explosion, which was soon linked by the press to saboteurs from Germany, the Irish Republican Army, and other groups. Today Black Tom is an island no more, linked by landfill to Jersey City as part of the Liberty Park complex. Germany, although not admitting guilt, finally paid reparations for the damages to the United States in 1979.