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The Great Chicago Fire: Introduction
Image by John R. Chapin, originally published in an 1871 issue of Harper's Weekly
The Great Chicago Fire, which burned from October 8-10, 1871, destroyed 3.3 square miles of the city, killed around 300 people, and left 100,000 people homeless. The fire originated in or around a barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O'Leary; according to legend, the fire started in the barn when a cow Catherine O'Leary was milking kicked over a lantern. This story has been disproven, and the actual cause of the fire remains unknown. The fire spread quickly due to drought conditions and strong winds, and the city's primarily wooden buildings and sidewalks burned readily.
Resources at the IFSI Library
These links take you to the IFSI catalog. To request an item, click "Add to Request Bin." This takes you to a page where you can fill out the online request form and submit to the IFSI library. To request items, you must be an Illinois resident with a library card from an Illinois library.
A number of books about the fire were published in the months proceeding it. These books provide a facinating glimpse of contemporary perceptions of the fire and its aftermath. Some place the fire in a broader context by chronicling the history of Chicago up to that time. Others document the donations and relief efforts extended to the city by individuals and municipalities from around the U.S. and around the world. Some also include discussions of fire science as it was understood at that time.
They are now in the public domain and have been digitized by libraries.
The Great Fire: Leading Newspaper Accounts of the Great Chicago Conflagration
This book, published by St. Louis Book and News Co. not long after the fire, is composed of reprints of articles from newspapers around the country documenting the fire, including the St. Louis Times, the New York Tribune, the New York Sun, the Chicago Evening Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and a paper identified only as "The Spectator." The articles include lists of the Illinois companies doing business in Chicago at that time, buildings destroyed, approximate financial losses of Chicago businesses, and donations by other cities. The book is part of the University of Illinois Digital Books Collection.
Chicago Relief: First Special Report of the Chicago Relief and Aid Society
The Chicago Relief and Aid Society was responsible for managing and distributing the donations received by the city of Chicago after the fire. This report is the society's explanation as to how the relief process was carried out. The Treasurer's report is a very detailed listing of all the donations received, listing individual donors within the U.S. by city and state and international donors by country. The book is part of the University of Illinois Digital Books Collection.
Final Report of the Proceedings of the Masonic Board of Relief of the City of Chicago
The Masons of Chicago received many donations from Masonic Lodges around the country. These donations were distributed to Chicago Masons affected by the fire and their families. This book includes a list of all the funds and supplies received organized by state, city, and lodge, and a line-by-line account of how the funds were distributed. The book is part of the University of Illinois Digital Books Collection.
The Great Conflagration. Chicago: Its past, present, and future
This book, by James W. Sheahan and George P. Upton of the Chicago Daily Tribune, includes a detailed history of Chicago, a description of the fire and its destruction, stories of individuals' actions during the fire, and descriptions of historical major fires.
The Lakeside Memorial of the Burning of Chicago, A.D. 1871
This book, published in 1872, includes sections on Chicago before the fire, the fire itself, the losses, the relief effort, and the future of Chicago, as well as a section on historical fires and fire science as understood at that time. The book is part of the University of Illinois Digital Books Collection.
The Lost City! Drama of the Fire Fiend or Chicago as it was, and as it is!
This book, published in 1872, is a sensationalized account of the history of Chicago, the fire, and its aftermath. It includes many engravings. This book is part of the University of Illinois Digital Books Collection.
The Great Chicago Fire and the Web of Memory
This site, by the Chicago Historical Society, includes a history of the fire itself (entitled "The Great Chicago Fire") as well as people's responses to and remembrances of the fire ("The Web of Memory"). There is also a guide to "Touring the Fire" by visiting 54 Chicago landmarks related to the fire.
Illinois Fire Service Institute Library
Libguide created by Elizabeth York