Great Chicago Fire The Disaster of 1871

The Chicago Fire was a disastrous event that occurred on October 8, 1871. The fire is most likely one of the most iconic fires in America. It destroyed many items and caused a lot of damage. Since then, America has come up with many new technologies that can help us stop and prevent fires.

Background Information

Back then in the 19th century, Chicago was a rapidly growing city. Immigrants from all over the world had come to America in hopes for a better life. Due to the rapidly growing population, the city was forced to build many buildings in a short amount of time. Naturally, the city would use the cheapest material which at the time was lumber. Buildings were all in close proximity and were haphazardly thrown together. Due to the drought that Chicago was experiencing, The wood became very dry and flammable.

Ellis island was built in 1892 due to the outbreak in Immigration.

At the time, the Chicago Fire Department (CFD) were said to have state of the art fire defense. Some examples would be Street call boxes which were similar to our fire alarms. They also had horse drawn steam engines which are like our firetrucks. Despite having the state of the art defenses, the CFD were still short on members and equipment. They only had 185 full time firefighters. They needed fire boats along the Chicago river which was lined with coal factories and lumberyards. They also needed Inspectors to check the carelessly built building. Unfortunately, this was all shot down by the Business Committee because it was thought to be to costly.


The fire started on October 8, 1871 9pm and ended roughly 30 hours later on October 10. It had been an unusually dry summer (Four months) in the city of Chicago which made the fire spread easier. The fire had started at the O'Leary's barn but the reason is still unknown. There are many theories on how the fire started but the most common urban legend states that the O'Leary's cow had accidentally kicked down a kerosene lamp which lit a stack of hay on fire.

Keresone Lamp

The fire had been ablaze for thirty minutes until someone had remembered to alert the CFD. The fire was almost impossible to contain due to the wind which had fanned out the fire causing a "Fire storm". There were also "Fire devils" (Flaming pieces of wood which were blown away by the wind) who helped spread the fire very quickly.

Shortly after the CFD were alerted, the industrial buildings along the Chicago River had burst into flames. The Chicago River served as an inadequate border as the fires merely just "danced" on the river itself. This was because the Chicago River was covered in industrial waste which was very flammable

Once the Fire had gotten out of hand, the mayor of Chicago had requested firefighters from the cities nearby. this message had said: "Chicago is in flames."" Send your whole department to help us."

The Chicago River in Flames

The fire then invaded the southern part of Chicago which included Conley's Patch, a neighborhood where German, Irish and Scandinavians lived. The flames then approached downtown Chicago and engulfed some of the most iconic buildings (Post Office, Chicago times building, Chicago Academy of music etc.) in flames. Lastly, the fire spread to the northern part off Chicago where 75,000 people lived. People were slow to evacuate since the people didn't think the fire would spread that fast. Some people ran to the outskirts of town while many people (30,000 People) hid in open spaces like Lincoln Park along Lake Michigan. Then at last, the disastrous event ceased to an end.

Pictures that depict what had happened in those disastrous 30 hours


The aftermath of those events were very shocking. The damage totaled up to be a whopping 192-222 million dollars (Now roughly 4 billion dollars). 100,000 people had became homeless and 300 people had died. There were also 18,000 buildings destroyed. Some things that were irreplaceable were destroyed too. The original Emancipation Proclamation had also been destroyed.

Connections to Current Day


  1. We have had a firestorm not to long ago. Like the Chicago fire, the Gatlinburg fire was also classified as a firestorm. A firestorm is when heavy winds combine with fire and the wind fans out the fire.
  2. The population in America is still increasing. Back then America was seen as a place for freedom and it still is. Now there are a lot of Syrian refugees coming into America due to war in their nation
  3. Places in America still have droughts. Chicago had suffered a 4 month drought and California is currently suffering a longterm drought which has been going on for quite some time. When I went to California, you had to pay extra for water at some restaurants.
  4. Chicago is still a major city


  1. The buildings in Chicago are no longer built carelessly. We now have many different technologies (Cranes etc.) that help us build buildings more efficiently. We also use better materials now.
  2. Chicago now has more than enough firefighters and equipment. The U.S supports the safety of it's people a lot more now. The citizens pay taxes to pay for their equipment.
  3. Chicago has more advance technology now including fire alarms, Ladders, efficient Firetrucks, fire hydrants and much more.
  4. The number of trees in Chicago have dwindled due to the heavy population in Chicago. It is not as abundant as it used to be.


Created with images by LoggaWiggler - "fire burn hell" • LoggaWiggler - "fire radio spark fire" • tpsdave - "ellis island new york city skyline" • Hans - "kerosene lamp lamp light"

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