The Great Chicago Fire
This image is from the Chicago
Historical Society's website.
It was a very dry and hot summer and
fall of 1871. Even though fires seemed to be a lot worse
than usual, the fireman thought they could take on any
fire until the day of October 8 1871, came. Back in 1871
people blamed Mrs. O'Leary's cow because the fire started
on there street, but the dry summer helped a lot. Now
people think that it was someone who was not being
careful with matches or cigarettes. The wind most likely
made the fire catch on house after house after house.
The day it started, people believed
that Mrs. O'Leary was milking her cow, then, all of a
sudden the lantern nearby was kicked over by the cow and
a blazing fire started catching on to hay and houses. The
fire was going at a speed which made it get bigger and
larger every second, chasing people down DeKoven Street.
The wooden houses made it easier for the fire to spread.
When it reached the Chicago River, people thought they
were safe, but the ashes jumped over the river and caught
on more dry wood so the fire could rush to the center of
the city. Panic and cries made people jump into the river
or lake to avoid getting burnt. Another place to go was
Lincoln Park because even though the fire was going
everywhere, a light rain for about 25 hours made the fire
die down before it reached Lincoln Park.
There were a few buildings that did
not get destroyed. The Chicago Water Tower was one of
them. The principal reason was because the Water Tower
was one of the few buildings that wasn't made out of
wood. It was made out of limestone. Of course the fire
ruined it a little but after the fire, workers made it
even better than it had been before. That is why the
Water Tower still stands today.
When the fire was over, 300 people of
the 300,000 in Chicago were killed, 100,000 were left
homeless, 17,500 buildings were destroyed, 73 miles of
street were destroyed and $200 million of property was
destroyed. People immediately started to rebuild.
Architects, people and even firemen were working nonstop
for 3 months. Cities all over the world sent supplies,
money, and enough books to give Chicago the largest
public library of its time. Old businesses were rebuilt
and Chicago had enough industry to need a lot more
workers then before. To make more room for buildings,
Chicagoans used the trash from the fire to make a much
bigger lakeshore by adding the trash to the existing
lakeshore. That is why the Water Tower is no longer near
the lake shore. After 3 months 300,000 buildings were
Many lessons were learned, such as
fireproof houses were needed in the case of big fires.
Even though the houses we have today aren't even
fireproof, people back then wanted the best they could
get. Also, they needed gasoline powered trucks so they
could get to the fires faster. The horses didn't do that
well with the firemen.
Another rule was that floors and roofs
needed to withstand fire for at least 3 hours. The last
rule was to have a much better fire alarm system. The old
ones were not trustworthy enough. Those were all the new
rules that they needed. And remember that all this
confusion believed to be started from a cow on the corner
of DeKoven and Jefferson.
here to see the Chicago Historical Society's website on
the Great Chicago Fire