Great Chicago, 1871
Credit: Chicago History Museum / Getty Images


The Place: Illinois
The Underlying Cause: Undetermined
The Devastation: About 17,500 buildings and 250 lives were lost. The damaged totaled around $200 million.
What Is Noteworthy about This Fire: In the 20 years prior to the Great Fire, Chicago's population had tripled. As a result, the poor neighborhoods near the downtown area were very congested. They were also largely made of wood. Because of these characteristics and dry weather, small fires were fairly common. On the night previous to the Great Chicago Fire, a separate blaze had already pushed firefighters to the point of exhaustion and damaged some of their equipment.