The Great Chicago Fire Of 1871

By | January 9, 2019

test article image
The ruins of the LaSalle Street Station after the Great Chicago Fire, United States of America, engraving from The Illustrated London News, No 1679, November 18, 1871. Source: (

Chicago was one of the fastest growing cities in the 19th century. The city was densely populated and most of the buildings were constructed with wood. The summer of 1871 had been extremely dry. There had been lots of smaller fires and the firefighters were already over-worked and equipment had been damaged. Legend says that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern which started the fire.

test article image
Drawing depicting Mrs. O'Leary's cow. Source: (

Was it Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow?

No one knows for sure how the fire started. It could have been the cow.  What is known is the fire did begin in the barn belonging to the O’Leary family. It took minutes for the fire to be out of control. The firefighters and trucks arrived too late to do anything and it was very windy. Burning embers were blown down the block which ignited another fire and so on and so on. Even buildings built of stone exploded. People had nowhere to go except in the street. Many people could be seen running with arms full of whatever belongings they could carry. For those that perished, only a third of the bodies were found. It is believed that the rest were reduced to ashes by the heat and flames.