Great Chicago Fire

One of the events that led up to the formation of the future labor organizations in Chicago was the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

The fire started at about 9 P.M. on Sunday, October 8 and burned until early Tuesday, October 10 covering over 2.100 acres, causing 200 deaths, destroying 17,450 buildings and leaving 70,000 homeless (out of a population of 324,000).

While the fire started small, it developed quickly helped by firewood in the closely packed wooden buildings, ships lining the river, the city’s elevated wood-planked sidewalks and roads and the commercial lumber and coal yards along the river.

When the fire destroyed the waterworks that pumped the water for the city and cut off the supply, the firefighters were forced to give up and there went the city.

Why was it important?

The rebuilding of Chicago began almost as quickly as the embers cooled. Thousands of skilled workmen were required to re-build the destroyed city and to make their home here. It can be assumed that many, if not the majority of the craftsmen who re-built the city did not originally live here. In fact the population at the time of the fire was 324,000 people and 20 years later tripled in size to almost one million.

In the 20 years following the fire, Chicago was re-built to such an extent that the city was awarded the prize of holding the World’s Columbian Exposition (called the Chicago’s World Fair) beating out New York and Washington D.C. for the honor.

This vast influx of skilled tradesman undoubtedly helped with the establishment of the organization in 1892 that would become the ”Bridge and Structural Iron Workers” organization that would become Local One when the International Association was formed in 1896.