Write An Informative Essay on The Great Chicago Fire

Currier and Ives's painting of the Great Chicago fire shows the view of the flame from the far northeast. It shows giant tongues of fire engulfing large apartment complexes across Randolph Street Bridge. This monstrosity destroyed about 3.3 square miles of the city and killed approximately three people. It left more than 100,00 people homeless and consumed 17,000 buildings. Wonder how you can write an informative essay on the great Chicago fire? Let's explore what happened in 1871.


A Red City Sky

Various theories started circulating from the moment the fire broke out. Richard Bales, an amateur historian, argued that Daniel Sullivan set the O'Leary farm on fire while trying to steal milk. Sullivan reported seeing fire coming from the O'Leary barn and ran to free the animals inside, including a cow owned by Sullivan's mother.


Antony DeBartolo said the Chicago Tribunal suggested Louis M. Cohn was to blame after starting a fire during a craps game. Cohn said he was gambling in the barn with one of O'Leary's sons and some neighborhood boys when Mrs. O'Leary found them and chased them off. They knocked over a lantern while fleeing around 9:00 p.m.


The Cow Story

The most prevalent and enduring legend surrounding the great Chicago fire contains the main suspect, the O'Leary barn. Other than a scientific theory proposed by Ignatius Donnelly concerning a meteorite shower being the culprit, the rest gravitate towards the O'Leary barn. The most popular among these is that the fire started when Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern when she was milking it. The O'Leary family denies this and claims they were in bed before it started. The cow story spread and became the dominant story of the fire's origin.


Anti-Irish and Anti-Catholic Sentiment

Catherine O'Leary is the best scapegoat for two reasons. She was a poor Irish Catholic immigrant. The anti-Irish sentiment was extreme during this period across the US due to their growing political power in Chicago. The US was also distrustful of Catholics as most of its early inhabitants had English attitudes. This made Mrs. O'Leary the perfect candidate due to anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiments.


The Chicago Tribunal first wrote about this version of events in its first post-fire issue. It had spread across the city before the fire died out. Michael Ahern, the reporter who wrote the story, retracted it in 1893. It did not have witness reports or any evidence. But his confession was a tad too late; the legend persisted. Despite never facing conviction for the fire, the Chicago city council had to acquit the family and their cow in 1997.


Visiting the Neighborhoods and Staying!

The Chicago fire devastated the city for two days. The flames came from a neighborhood southwest of the city center, and debris moved from the south branch of the Chicago River. It ravaged most of central Chicago before proceeding to the Near North Side by leaping across the river’s main branch.


Fanning the Flames

A prolonged period of hot, dry, and windy conditions exacerbated the situation. It did not help that most of the buildings were made of wood! The town used predominantly wooden material in a style called balloon frame. Over two-thirds of the structures in the city at this time were made purely of wood. The buildings were also ripe for a fire outbreak. Most of them were topped with shingles and highly flammable tar roofs. Every sidewalk in Chicago and many roads were wooden. This became a significant problem since the city had experienced a prolonged drought before the southwest winds blew flaming debris to the city center.


Chicago's Fire Department

The city had 185 firefighters in 1871, with 17 horse-drawn steam pumpers. Despite a swift first response by the fire department, Matthias Schafer, the watchman, made an error. The fire grew in size as the firefighters went to a different part of the city. An alarm also malfunctioned and did not function at a courthouse near the fire. The firefighters arrived tired. They had fought a big fire one week before the incident and several small ones on the way to DeKoven Street. A small barn fire had turned into one of the worst disasters Chicago would ever witness.


The Chicago River Crossing

Firefighters were met by a blazing fire when they arrived at DeKoven Street. The fire had spread from the O'Leary shed to neighboring buildings and was racing toward the central business district. Firefighters hoped the south branch of the Chicago River would snuff out the flames but watched in horror as the fire's intensity increased. They thought the river and a previously burned area along the bank would help, but the fire also had some advantages.


There were barges, warehouses, lumber yards, bridges, and coal yards along the river. The southwest wind blew flaming debris to the South Side Gas Works and roofs across the river around midnight. People panicked! The fire had made the crossing and was moving towards the city center. The mayor, Roswell B. Mason, sent messages seeking help from nearby towns at this point. He ordered the release of prisoners jailed at the courthouse and an evacuation when it caught fire.


Bad Things Come in 3s

You may be thinking; things couldn't get any worse, right? Well, they did in this case. Rising overheated air meets cooler air and starts spinning. It creates a tornado-like effect known as a fire whirl that had a major contribution to spreading the Chicago fire. They are likely the cause of the high levels reached by flaming debris during the ordeal. For instance, some debris crossed the Chicago River's main branch and jumped the river a second time!


A railroad carrying kerosene was hit by flaming debris once the flames crossed the river. The fire started devastating Chicago's north side. Simultaneously, a piece of timber fell on the roof of the city's waterworks. The building was in flames within minutes, destroying the firefighter's capacity to continue the battle. Chicago water mains dried up, plunging the city into helplessness.



The great Chicago fire is one of the USA's most devastating instances of quasi-natural disasters. It elicited the importance of building fire safety codes. Chicago would rebuild stronger, but its residents would never forget the small barn fire that lit up the sky in bright red.


Are you struggling to write an informative essay on the Great Chicago fire? Order an essay like this from us today. Your essay will be written by a history specialist who knows a great deal about the fire. What are you waiting for? Try us today. 


Other Samples

  1. Argumentative Essay about Maternity Leave
  2. Argumentative essay on plagiarism
  3. Argumentative Essay on Teenage Driving
  4. Human Cloning Essay
  5. A Meeting in the Dark summary
  6. SAIS Analytical Essay
  7. Same Sex Adoption Essay
  8. The Great Gatsby Narrative Essay
  9. SAIS Analytical Essay
  10. Why is King Hrothgar a Flat Character in Beowulf?
  11. Examples of Imagery in Lord of the Flies Chapter 1
  12. Essay on Pet Peeves
  13. Area 51 Essay
  14. A Moment That Changed My Life Essay



Paper details

Academic level
High School

Paper instructions

Write a 900 words informative essay on the great Chicago fire.

Order paper like this

Get your troublesome papers written by our

Competent writers !!