Today in History: The Great Fire of Chicago
144 years ago, the Great Fire of Chicago took over the city, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
The fire originated on October 8, 1871 and spanned over the course of two days. Its flames destroyed thousands of buildings, took the lives of an estimated 300 people and caused nearly $200 million in damages to Chicago.
The source of the fire has been a heated debate.
Rumor has it that the blaze began when a cow knocked over a lantern in a barn owned by Catherine O'Leary. However, a reporter admitted to making up the story. Anti-Irish attitudes at the time led to the legend taking off as people encouraged the scapegoating of the O'Leary family. Mrs. O'Leary and her cow were finally exonerated by the Chicago City Council in 1997.
Another theory from researchers suggests that the fire was caused by a disintegrating comet.
However, despite the havoc the blaze wreaked for the city, the Great Fire of Chicago is actually not the worst fire in United States history. In fact, it was not even the worst fire to occur that week.
The entire town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin was destroyed and upwards of 1,500 to 2,500 people were killed in the blaze. The firestorm caused the most deaths by fire in the country's history. Fires across Michigan also broke out that day, as well.
Despite all the controversy and events that accumulated that night, the Great Fire of Chicago is remembered because it occurred in one of the biggest and busiest industrialized cities at the time.
Extremely dry weather caused the fire to spread fast. Taking almost two full days to get under control, the blaze left four square miles of Chicago in ruins by October 10th. However, even though the Great Fire left almost 100,000 people homeless, the city's infrastructure remained largely intact.
Because Chicago was already a bustling symbol of American industrialism, reconstruction for the damage caused by the fire began quickly. Economic and population growth spurred the reconstruction efforts and architects began leaving their own marks on the city, designing skyscrapers that would eventually take its place on the city's skyline.
Within nine years of the Great Fire of Chicago, the population had grown from 324,000 to more than 500,000 and by 1893, the Windy City was well on its way to becoming a transportation hub with more than 1.5 million residents.
See images of The Great Fire of Chicago and the damage it left:
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