Posts Tagged the Great Chicago Fire

Fire Museum of Greater Chicago presents …


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What did Chicago look like before the Great Fire?

From comes an interactive historical map of Chicago prior to the Great Chicago Fire.

The historical map viewable in a spyglass comes from the David Rumsey Map Collection. … David Rumsey, a map expert who has been collecting maps since the 1980s, … describe[s] the nature of the map … His personal map collection currently contains more than 150,000 maps and is one of the largest private collections in the United States. 


Rufus Blanchard, a Chicago map publisher whose business flourished in the late-18th century, made this 1868 map of Chicago as part of a guidebook called “The Citizen’s Guide for the City of Chicago.” The map itself is made out of thin paper, and is extremely durable despite its light weight – perfect for fitting in the pocket of a Chicago resident or a tourist looking to navigate their way through the increasingly bustling metropolis. “Chicago was a really busy town, it was exploding at that time,” Rumsey notes, pointing to the crisscross of railroads as a primarily clue to the Windy City’s massive expansion.

“One of the things that you notice right away are the railroads shown. There are around seven railroads coming into the city. Almost all of those railroads are gone today.” To see the growth, look to the west of the map, where Rumsey points out subdivisions popping up around pockets of streets, reflecting the way that neighborhoods grew in specific and insular ways. But don’t just look to the west – also look to the east, to Lake Michigan. “Chicago did grow to the east, because it filled [Lake Michigan] in. That’s one thing that’s really exciting about this map. Put the lens on the shoreline and you’ll see how much land was added compared to the old map,” Rumsey explains. To facilitate their booming population, the city used Lake Michigan to its advantage in many ways, from filling in shoreline to create more land to the “Lake Tunnel” and “Tunnel crib,” shown in the upper-right part of the map, which were used to channel fresh water from the lake back to the city.

The map shows Chicago in a boom – but that expansion would be devastated less than five years later in the Great Chicago Fire. Rumsey points out the huge swaths of city that would be burned by the fire – all the blocks shaded pink, green and pink to the north and the blocks shaded yellow and blue to the south.

 thanks Jeff

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A blast from the past

Thanks to for digging up this old ad from the Howe Fire Apparatus Company. It features an engine from the Chicago State Hospital in a November 1953 ad from Fire Engineering Magazine.

Do we have some readers that can expound on this engine or the fire department?

Howe Fire Apparatus OfficeHowe manufactured fire trucks and equipment for 66 years in Anderson. In 1978, the company closed the Anderson plant and moved to RoanokeVa.

Howe Fire Apparatus Company magazine ad

1953 fire truck ad from Fire Engineering Magazine for the Howe Fire Apparatus Company.

An interesting article on the Howe Company was recently published in the Herald Bulletin Online.

By Beth Oljace Anderson Public Library

The year 1871 was a disastrous year for fires in the United States.

On Oct. 8, 1871, the Great Chicago Fire destroyed more than three square miles of the city’s north lakefront, killed hundreds of people and leaving a third of the city homeless. On the same day, three cities in Michigan — Manistee, Holland and Port Huron — also suffered huge fires.

The fifth fire that day was the most devastating of all. A firestorm ignited the drought-plagued country around Peshtigo, Wis., burned more than 1 million acres and killed more than 1,000 people. Americans were more than aware of the dangers of fire. It was a good time for B.J.C. Howe to start his business.

B.J.C. Howe had perfected and patented a piston pump fire wagon, the first of its kind, and he began to sell it in 1872. The pump could be operated by a team of 20 men or by the team of horses that had drawn it to the fire. It was a highly efficient water thrower. The design of the pump was so good that versions of it were still being made and used 100 years later.

Howe Fire Apparatus located first in Indianapolis and spent nearly 50 years there. The Howe family’s country home served as the business’ test kitchen. Frequently, new pump units would be tried out on the grounds. (Mrs. Howe must have been a tolerant woman.) The family also maintained a good relationship with the city by servicing its equipment for them. Before summer holidays, one of the Howe sons would visit all the horse-watering troughs in the city to make sure that the well pumps were in working condition. He would also visit fire departments throughout central Indiana to make sure that their Howe pumpers were working properly.

In the 1960s, Howe bought the Oren Roanoke Corp. in Virginia and the Coast Apparatus Company near San Francisco, Calif. They provided the company with regional outlets on the East and West coasts and allowed the company to run three small factories, which was a better approach for a customized service. At that time the Anderson factory had 120-150 workers, creating 140 customized trucks a year.

In 1975, the government eliminated revenue sharing funds for the purchase of fire equipment. This, and other changes in the economy, slowed the purchase of Howe equipment. In 1976, the company was acquired by Grumman Industries of New York. When things did not improve, the company made the decision to close the Anderson factory. Howe Fire Apparatus in Anderson ceased operations on December 15, 1978.

Howe Fire was a four-generation family business. B. J. C. Howe retired from the business in the early 1890s and left it to his three sons, who ran operations until the Depression. The sons of L.M. Howe managed the company into the ‘40s. One of them remained as chairman of the board until the 1970s and his sons were president and plant superintendent.

Manufacture of Howe Fire Apparatus equipment was moved to the Virginia plant after Howe’s Anderson plant closed in 1978. Howe Fire equipment was manufactured until 1982. Grumman Allied Industries, the company which purchased Howe, was absorbed into Northrop Corp. in 1994 and is still in business.

These are only excerpts, read the entire informative article at the link above.


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