In New Zealand in the 1930s, farmers reportedly had trouble with exploding trousers as a result of attempts to control ragwort, an agricultural weed.
Farmers had been spraying sodium chlorate, a government recommended weedkiller, onto the ragwort, and some of the spray had ended up on their clothes. Sodium chlorate is a strong oxidizing agent, and reacted with the organic fibres (i.e. the wool and the cotton) of the clothes. Reports had farmers' trousers variously smoldering and bursting into flame, particularly when exposed to heat or naked flames. One report had trousers that were hanging on a washing line starting to smoke. There were also several reports of trousers exploding while farmers were wearing them, causing severe burns.
The history was written up by James Watson of Massey University in a widely reported article, "The Significance of Mr. Richard Buckley's Exploding Trousers", and which later won him an Ig Nobel Prize
Other articles related to "exploding trousers, exploding, trousers":
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