This week in 1871: the Great Chicago Fire


  Image: Library of Congress, LCCN 92506070

October 8-10, 1871: Thanks to a combination of very dry conditions, a predominance of wooden buildings, and a smaller fire from the previous day which compromised the efficacy of firefighters and equipment, what would be known as the Great Chicago Fire ruined about a third of the city. We might never know for sure if Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was to blame for the blaze, but check out these four great resources from the PSC Library and beyond to learn more about this important event in Chicago history!

  1. Chicago Tribune Historical Archive

Primary sources were created by individuals during the time of the historical event, rather than by later researchers. Newspapers are a great example of a primary source, and the PSC Library has digital access to the archives of the Chicago Tribune.

One way to find articles created around the time of the Great Chicago Fire is to look at the news articles published around October 8-10, 1871. To do this, first find the archive that covers the time period of interest. In this case, since we are searching for articles created during 1871, click on the fifth archive in the list, “Chicago Tribune (1860-1872).” Once there, you have the option to search within the publication or to browse specific dates.

  1. Chicago Fire (documentary)

This easily-digestible, 22-minute documentary is from one of our newer databases, the Alexander Street Press Video Collection. This particular video explores the fire technology available at the time, the city conditions, and the response by the fire department, which all contributed to the disaster.

This is a streaming database, which means you can watch videos right from the website—no discs required. You can even send videos to your phone so that you can watch when you’re on the go!

Videos in this database include transcripts of the audio, which makes incorporating information into a research paper very simple.

  1. The great fire: Chicago, 1871, by Herman Kogan and Robert Cromie

This print book is an older source (copyright 1972), but the juxtaposition of photos, illustrations, and text make for a very informative (and enjoyable!) read.

Research bonus: While you’re in the F548 section of the stacks, you can browse other books about Chicago.

4. Chicago Collections

Chicago-area memory institutions (museums, archives, libraries, etc.) joined together to create this collection of materials related to Chicago history. Many items are available online, including several photos. To find materials about the Great Chicago Fire, follow these steps from the Chicago Collections homepage:

  1. Choose the “Explore Collections” button in top right
  2. Click the “Browse” button
  3. Select “Topics”
  4. Click on the “Great Chicago Fire” link on bottom of page, under “All Topics.”


Enjoy learning about the Great Chicago Fire – and perhaps feel grateful that there won’t be a repeat of the infamous 2014 “celebration” of the event!


“Chicago fire of 1871.” Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 10 Jun. 2008. Accessed 19 Sep. 2016.


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