Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, October 28, 1871

Great Chicago Fire

On the evening of October 8 in 1871, Chicago is engulfed by fire. The windy and dry conditions blow sparks over the city of predominately wooden buildings and wood covered streets. With inadequate equipment and not enough men, fire fighters are not able to contain the fire. The conflagration burns for three days killing hundreds and destroying approximately 4 square miles of the city. Property loss is estimated at over $250 million and 90,000 people are homeless. The Great Chicago Fire is one of the largest U.S. disasters of the 19th century.

Architecture After the Great Chicago Fire

Louis Sullivan and his partner Dankmar Adler are instrumental in rebuilding Chicago after the Great Fire in 1871. Adler is a civil engineer known for his expertise in acoustics especially for theaters and houses of worship. Sullivan's architectural designs foreshadow the Modern Movement in architecture. Though he coins the phrase "form ever follows function," a phrase the Modernist embrace as buildings without decoration, his use of decorative elements puts him outside of the Modernist Movement.

Before partnering with Adler, Sullivan works for William LeBaron Jenney, a pioneer in skeleton construction. Though the firm of Adler and Sullivan is considered a leader in the "Chicago School of Architecture" they design buildings in many other American cities including the Wainwright Building in St. Louis. Sullivan's work and ideas influence Frank Lloyd Wright.

The rebuilding of Chicago after the Great Fire is one of Adler and Sullivan's greatest accomplishments.The devastation caused by the fire provides them with a blank canvas to experiment with new building technologies and nonflammable materials. The Chicago Tribune wrote of the task of rebuilding the city, "In the midst of a calamity without parallel in the world's history, looking upon the ashes of thirty years' accomplishmnets, the people of this once beautiful city have resolved that CHICAGO SHALL RISE AGAIN!." 

Illustration, The Chicago Fire, Harper's Weekly
Chicago after The Great Fire