The Destruction of the 1871 Chicago Fire Captured in Photographs

More than 17,000 buildings were destroyed in this disaster.

The Great Fire of 1871 in Chicago was the most devastating catastrophe to ever hit the city. For decades the city was affected by the fire which spread quickly throughout the metropolis. While it has been well established that the fire was not actually started by a cow, the fire is certainly an important part of American history.

Map from 1871 showing the areas of Chicago affected by the fire. Via/ NYPL
Birdseye view from top of waterworks, North side. Via/ NYPL
Tribune building and Custom House from interior Second Presbyterian Church. Via/ NYPL
View of the courthouse. Via/ Flickr
The courthouse bell after the fire. Via/ NYPL

The city looks like it’s been bombed, with many blocks completely destroyed save for the odd wall or telegraph pole still standing here and there.

Sign outside Field, Leiter, & Co. reads: “Cash boys and work girls will be Paid what is due them Monday 9 A.M. Oct. 16th at 60 Calumet Ave.” Via/ CARLI
View from Tribune Building looking northwest. Via/ NYPL
“Booksellers row.” Via/ Library of Congress
Another view of booksellers row. Via/ Library of Congress
Colonel Wood’s Museum and the Globe Theater. Via/ NYPL

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