Chicago Fire


The Great Chicago Fire

The summer of 1871 was very dry, leaving the ground parched and the wooden city vulnerable. On Sunday evening, October 8, 1871, just after nine o'clock, a fire broke out in the barn behind the home of Patrick and Catherine O'Leary at 13 DeKoven Street. How the fire started is still unknown today, but an O'Leary cow often gets the credit.

The Rush for Life Over the Randolph Street Bridge, 1871

The Rush for Life Over the Randolph Street Bridge, 1871 (Harper's Weekly, from a sketch by John R. Chapin)

The firefighters, exhausted from fighting a large fire the day before, were first sent to the wrong neighborhood. When they finally arrived at the O'Leary's, they found the fire raging out of control. The blaze quickly spread east and north. Wooden houses, commercial and industrial buildings, and private mansions were all consumed in the blaze.

The Rush of Refugees through the Potter's Field toward Lincoln Park, 1871

The Rush of Refugees through the Potter's Field
toward Lincoln Park, 1871 (Harper's Weekly, from a
sketch by Theodore R. Davis)

After two days, rain began to fall. On the morning of October 10, 1871, the fire died out, leaving complete devastation in the heart of the city. At least 300 people were dead, 100,000 people were homeless, and $200 million worth of property was destroyed. The entire central business district of Chicago was leveled. The fire was one of the most spectacular events of the nineteenth century, and it is recognized as a major milestone in the city's history.




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