The Great Chicago Fire
Mrs. Patrick O'Leary's cow
Oct. 8, 1871

The summer of 1871 was unusually dry in Chicago. Only about a fourth the normal amount of rain fell between July and October. With all its wooden buildings, Chicago was like kindling. Then on the evening of Oct. 8, 1871, a fire started on the Southwest Side of the city.

Historians believe the fire started in a barn owned by Mrs. Patrick O'Leary. According to legend, a cow kicked over a lighted lantern in the barn. Fanned by strong winds, the flames raced north and east through the city. They leaped across the river and chased panic-stricken families fleeing north toward Lincoln Park. Hundreds of other families fled into the chill waters of the lake. The fire raged for more than 24 hours. It wiped out the downtown area and most North Side homes. It killed at least 300 people and left 90,000 homeless. The fire also destroyed about $200 million worth of property.

Chicago rose from the ruins of the fire and became one of the world's great cities. The opportunity to rebuild Chicago attracted many of the nation's finest architects, such as William Le Baron Jenney, Louis Sullivan, Daniel H. Burnham, John W. Root, and the German-born Dankmar Adler. The 10-story Home Insurance Building, often considered the world's first metal-framed skyscraper, was erected in Chicago. The structure, designed by Jenney, was completed in 1885. Chicago became the nation's architectural capital.

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