Fires are destructive. They also create changes. In 1871 a fire burned most of Chicago to the ground. Many people think the fire was started when a cow knocked over a gas lamp. Most of the city at the time was built of wood. This, combined with the famous Chicago winds and a drought, made the city burn down quickly. The fire lasted for three days. 100,000 people were left homeless, and at least 300 were killed. What was amazing was how quickly the city was rebuilt, eventually becoming the third most populous city in the United States.
The Great Boston Fire of 1872 created a property damage of $73.5 million, more than any other fire in the U.S. history. Most of Downtown Boston and the financial district burned down in the fire that began in a warehouse basement. 30 people died, and thousands lost their jobs and their homes. However, the city was rebuilt in two years. It began enforcing building regulations because of the fire.
The 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City caused the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in the U.S. history. 123 women and 23 men, all garment workers and mostly poor immigrants, died from the fire, smoke inhalation, or falling or jumping to their deaths. Child labor was not uncommon. The youngest victims were two 14-year-old girls who worked in the factory. So many people died because the owners of the factory locked the doors to the stairs and exits. This was to prevent the workers from taking breaks and stealing. As a result of the fire and huge loss of life, many people began protesting poor working conditions. The U.S. Congress passed laws improving factory safety conditions. Women workers also formed a union to fight for better working conditions.