J. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) Currey.

Chicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.2) online

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an influx of English and other foreign companies, very much to the benefit of
the business community.


As given in Andreas' "History of Chicago," the boundaries of the district burned
over in the Great Fire were as follows:

In the West Division, commencing at the corner of De Koven and Jefferson
streets; thence northerly along Jefferson street to near the corner of Harrison
street ; thence northeasterly to near the corner of Clinton and Van Buren streets ;
thence east to Canal street and the river; thence southerly along the river to Tay-
lor street; thence west to the corner of Taylor and Clinton streets; thence south
to De Koven street; thence west to Jefferson street.

In the South Division, commencing at Taylor street and the Chicago river;
thence east to Sherman street; thence north to Harrison street; thence east to
Wabash avenue; thence north to Congress street; thence east to the lake; thence
northerly along the lake shore to the mouth of the Chicago river; thence westerly
and southerly along said river to Taylor street and the river bank.

In the North Division, commencing near the mouth of the Chicago river;



thence westerly along the river to Market street; thence north to Michigan street;
thence west to the river; thence northwesterly along said river to near Division
street; thence northeasterly to near the corner of Division and Wesson streets;
thence west to the corner of Division street and Hawthorne avenue ; thence easterly
to Clybourn avenue; thence easterly to Orchard street; thence northeasterly to
Vine street; thence north to Center street; thence east to Hurlbut street; thence
north to Belden avenue; thence northeasterly to Franklin street; thence south on
Franklin street, by Lincoln Park, to Clark street; thence southerly to Wisconsin
street; thence east to the lake; thence southerly along the lake shore to the place
of beginning.


After the great fire there was an increased degree of watchfulness and a con-
sequent freedom from any extensive conflagrations, until the city was again over-
taken by the "little big fire" of July, 1874. "I do not believe," says Robert S.
Critchell in his "Recollections of a Fire-insurance Man," "that in the years 1872
and 1873 losses to companies generally in Chicago amounted to ten per cent of
the premiums," so that the profits to fire insurance companies with their increased
rates were very large. Critchell says that there was little or no loss on the busi-
ness written by him during this period, and companies and agents alike realized
a high degree of prosperity.


It will be remembered that the territory burned over by the great fire of 1871
reached no farther south than Harrison street on the South Side. A large portion
of the city south of that line was covered by a poor class of inflammable wooden
buildings. A fire broke out on July 14th, 1874, on South Clark street, near Har-
rison, late in the afternoon; and was not checked until early the next morning,
meantime having burned over an area of forty-seven acres, extending from Wa-
bash avenue on the east to Polk street on the south. The number of buildings
consumed in this fire was eight hundred and twelve, mostly one and two story
frame structures of the kind built in the early days of the city. Some thirty-six
of the buildings were classified as four and five story brick structures. Among
the buildings burned were eight churches and one school house. The losses sus-
tained in the fire amounted to $3,845,000, with an insurance of $2,200,000. On
the ensuing day another fire broke out and destroyed twenty-five buildings near
the corner of Milwaukee avenue and Sangamon street.

The occurrence of these fires, so soon after the Great Fire of 1871, was fol-
lowed by vigorous protests from the Board of Underwriters, who at a meeting
on the 15th of July adopted resolutions demanding "the reorganization of the
fire department, the vesting of absolute authority in the hands of the fire marshal,
a rigid enforcement of the fire limits, regulations against frame structures, the
enlargement of the city water mains, prohibition of combustibles in the city, and
the tearing down of wooden awnings, cornices and cupolas." As there was no
immediate action taken by the city authorities, the National Board of Under-
writers, 'on October 1st, adopted a resolution calling upon all insurance com-


panics to withdraw from Chicago. For a time many of the insurance companies
ceased to do business, until the reforms recommended were carried out.

"Through the efforts of the Citizens' Association and the Chicago Board of
Underwriters," says McQuade, in his History of the Fire Department, "General
William H. Shaler, of New York, a retired army officer, was brought to Chicago
to co-operate with Fire Marshall Benner in reorganizing the department, and in
instructing and drilling the force. The Citizens' Association contributed five thou-
sand dollars towards the services of General Shaler, and the National Board of
Underwriters five thousand dollars. In accordance with General Shaler's sug-
gestions, the uniformed force of the department, known as the fire police of Chi-
cago, was constituted a brigade, under the command of the Fire Marshal as chief,
and divided into six battalions. Each battalion was placed under the command
of an assistant fire marshal. . . . Each battalion was assigned to a district,
and each was composed of several companies in charge of their respective cap-
tains. In the company organizations the title of foreman was changed to cap-
tain, and that of assistant foreman to lieutenant. The titles of the other posi-
tions were virtually the same then as at the present time, with the exception of
privates or firemen, who are now called pipemen or truckmen, as the case may
be. The reorganization of the fire department on military lines was a wise step,
as it could not fail to improve the force in methods of training, discipline and


In 1877 the city employed three tug boats and equipped them with fire fight-
ing appliances. This was the first use made in Chicago of fireboats on the river.
Two of these boats were stationed near the lumber district on the South Branch
and one at the foot of Franklin street. All these so-called fireboats, however,
were makeshifts. The Geyser was specially constructed as a river fireboat in
1886, chiefly through the earnest efforts of Fire Marshal Swenie. Swenie had
been ordered to visit New York and other eastern cities to examine the fireboat
service there. On his return the Geyser was built at an expense of $39,000. The
Geyser was also used to open up the river in winter, and in 1887, she rendered
splendid service in this way when the river was gorged with ice during the win-
ter, and the flood of 1849 was likely to have been repeated. In the same year
the Geyser proved herself a complete success as a fireboat, performing highly ef-
fective work at several fires in the lumber district. Soon afterwards the fire-
boat Chicago was added to the little fleet, and the efficiency of the department
was thus increased twenty-five per cent in the neighborhood of the river and slips.

A new fireboat, the Yosemite, was launched in May, 1890, which was utilized
during a portion of the year 1891, in place of the Geyser and the Chicago, the two
latter being stationed at outlying districts. In 1892, the fireboat Fire Queen, a
light draft boat designed for service in the lagoons on the Exposition grounds,
was built by the Exposition company, and after the Fair had closed was turned
over to the city. In 1899, the new steel fireboat Illinois was placed in service:
the fleet consisting then of five fireboats, the Geyser, the Chicago, the Yosemite,
the Fire Queen, and the Illinois.

The name of the fireboat Geyser was changed to that of Denis J. Swenie en


January 1st, 1903. The name of the tireboat Yosemite was changed to Protector,
and again changed, on January 15th, 1907, to Michael W. Conway, and stationed
at South Chicago. The Fire Queen, being in poor condition, was put out of com-
mission in 1905.


On the 3d of August, 1908, a fire of great magnitude occurred near the corner
of Sixteenth and Canal streets. Not since the fire of 1874, were the people of
Chicago so stirred by the fear of another general conflagration as they were by
this great fire. The conditions were similar to those of the great fires of 1871
and 1874, a strong southwest wind and the highly inflammable nature of the struc-
tures at the origin of the fire. Two immense elevators were consumed in this
fire, besides a great number of freight cars, before the department was able to
get it under control. The difficulties confronting the Fire Department were from
the outset almost insurmountable, the nearest hydrant being nearly half a mile
away, and while the fire was in progress water was conveyed in many cases
through nearly a mile's stretch of hose. "One of the spectacular sights of the
tire," says the history of the Chicago Fire Department, prepared by James S.
McQuade, "was that of eighteen engines dotted along the river bank to the north
of the main conflagration, drawing water from the river, and six others at the
end of one of the slips getting water from that source. Sixty engines in all were
in operation during the fire." The fireboats were efficiently employed on this

Fire Marshal Horan, in an interview printed in the Tribune the next day said,
"It was the hottest and hardest fire to fight that I have seen in years. For more
than two hours I was in dread of a conflagration that would sweep all over the
city. If the flames had got to the south we would have had another great Chicago
fire, or if the numerous fires that started across the river had not been promptly
extinguished it is hard to say what the outcome would have been." In the after-
noon of the next day the fireboat Illinois lay between the ruins of the two great
elevators in the Armour slip, nearly under a fragment of the brick wall of one
of them. Suddenly a tremendous explosion occurred, caused by the generation of
gas in the heated grain, threw the wall outward, and it fell on the bow of the
boat. The ropes fastening the vessel to the dock kept her above water for a short
time, but she soon sank in twenty feet of water. She was raised and again put
into commission, in three weeks after the accident.


A disastrous fire occurred at the Union Stock Yards on the 22d of December,
1910, on which occasion twenty-two firemen lost their lives. Included in this
number were the chief of the Fire Department, Fire Marshal James Horan, Second
Assistant Fire Marshal William J. Burroughs, three captains, four lieutenants,
four pipemen, seven truckmen, one driver, and one member of a private fire de-
partment. Ten persons, members of the fire department, were also more or less

The fire originated in the beef house of Morris and Company, a building four


stories in height, and upon the arrival of the engines the chief and his assistant
with about twenty firemen took a position on the east side of the structure stand-
ing upon a long platform over which was a canopy or shed. Others were stationed
on the roof of the shed. At the side of the platform a line of freight cars was
drawn up taking on loads of beef for shipment.

Streams of water were quickly directed upon the flames through the doorways
from the platform, and through the windows from the roof of the shed, when sud-
denly an explosion of ammonia pipes within the building occurred, and the wall
of the house fell over upon the canopy instantly crushing it down upon the un-
fortunate men beneath who were thus caught as in a trap. Owing to the obstruction
caused by the cars standing alongside the platform, it was impossible for the rescuing
parties to reach the men buried beneath the wreck of the canopy and the fallen
bricks in time to save their lives, although instant and heroic efforts were made to
do so.

Chief Horan had been fire marshal nearly five years at the time of his un-
timely death. He had come up through all the grades of promotion and had re-
ceived the appointment as fire marshal from Mayor Dunne in 1906, and a reap-
pointment in 1907 from Mayor Busse when he came into office. Horan was an
efficient officer and enjoyed a remarkable degree of popularity. His death and
the death of the men who were with Kim caused an outburst of grief and sympathy
on the part of the people, and a general subscription for the relief of the families
of the firemen was immediately started. A committee to collect funds was formed
of which Mr. H. N. Higinbotham was made chairman, and in a few weeks, owing
to the force and persistency of the appeals of the committee and the generous
response made by the public, the total contributions amounted to over $211,000.
There were more than two thousand contributors to this fund, the contributions
ranging in amount from twenty-five cents to twenty-five thousand dollars.


The Firemen's Benevolent Association was formed in 1863, and at the time
of the Great Fire of 1871, the Association had a fund amounting to five thousand
dollars invested in the stock of a fire insurance company, whose losses in the fire
compelled them to pay out their entire capital. This deprived the stock of any
value and the treasury of the Association was therefore completely exhausted.
By means of firemen's balls and other entertainments funds began to be realized,
and by slow degrees it accumulated enough to resume its functions as a relief
organization. Besides funds thus derived the Association is benefited by the dues
paid into its treasury by its members. These dues have varied at different times
and are now five dollars per year. As membership is entirely voluntary, many of
the firemen are not enrolled.

The benefits to be derived from membership in the Association are that in
case of the death of a member his widow receives a pension of fifteen dollars, and
each child under sixteen five dollars, per month. In some cases firemen too old to
continue in service receive pensions. There is also an allowance for funeral ex-
penses. The funds in the possession of the Association on September 15th, 1908,
amounted to $52,001.08, in cash and securities.



At the end of the year 1909, the Department embraced one hundred and sev-
enteen engine companies, thirty-four hook and ladder companies, including one
water tower and fifteen chemical engines and one hose company. There are six
tireboats in service at the present time, two new ones having been placed in service
during the year. Of the fireboats now owned and operated by the Department
only the two new ones are in first-class condition, the "Joseph Medill" and the
"Graeme Stewart." The others, the "Illinois," the "D. J. Swenie," the "Michael
W. Conway," and the "Chicago," are in need of repairs, and it is hoped that at
least three new ones will be provided in the near future.

In the Fire Marshal's report, dated January 1st, 1910, the total number of
men in the service of the Department is given as 1,838, of which 1,760 were in
the class of uniformed officers and men, and 78 not uniformed, belonging to the
office and repair shop forces. Seven hundred and forty horses belong to the
equipment. The valuation of the property in use by the Department is stated to
be $3,010,651. The expenses of the Department for the year 1909 were $2,915,437.


The Chicago Board of Underwriters, comprising a membership "among the
general agents of fire insurance companies doing business in Chicago, began its
corporate existence on February 22d, 1861. It had been in actual operation for
some years before that date, however, as there are in existence copies of rate books
bearing date of 1859. Gurdon S. Hubbard was the first president of the board
and J. K. Rogers its first secretary. These were succeeded by John H. Kinzie as
president and Arthur C. Ducat as secretary.

Of Hubbard and Kinzie we have written elsewhere. In this connection some
account of Ducat will be of interest. Mr. Ducat's first appearance in Chicago was
in 1856, his first appointment being as assistant to Mr. Julius White, who was then
an insurance agent and "the head of a feeble Board of Underwriters," as we read
in a memoir of General A. C. Ducat, published in 1897. The energy and ability
with which Mr. Ducat discharged the duties attached to his office soon brought
him into prominence. After the formation of the Board of Underwriters, of which
he was the second secretary, he gave his entire time to the duties of that position.
He took a leading part in the reorganization of the Fire Department, in 1858. "He
was now in a position," says the Memoir above mentioned, "to attack the whole or-
ganization of the Volunteer Fire Companies, and it was plain that public opinion
was at last on the side of the modern system of a paid fire department under re-
sponsible direction. The change was advocated before the Council by Mr. Ducat,
among others, and the Council acted on the advice, but somewhat reluctantly ; the
old firemen were 'good fellows,' some of them were rich and influential, and their
organization died hard."

The great need of the fire insurance agents, as well as the interest of the
people, was "uniformity of rates, definite classification, and a settled order of
surveys." Through Mr. Ducat's presevering efforts effective progress was made
towards scientific methods, though much opposition was met with among those
who preferred the go-as-you-please plan of conducting business. He determined


to enlist the aid of the insurance companies whose main offices were in the East,
and accordingly he went thither alone and laid the entire case before them. His
visit resulted in a complete triumph, and the officers of all the principal companies
of New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut, held a meeting and adopted reso-
lutions approving of "the action of their respective agents in Chicago in forming
an association for sustaining the rate of premium on fire risks in that city, and
[we] feel great pleasure in acknowledging the wisdom and discretion exhibited in
the classification of risks, and the various additional changes enumerated in the
Chicago tariff." They also included in their resolutions the following: "That
we regard the existing union of all insurance agents in Chicago, and all the com-
panies represented by them in the association for sustaining uniform rates, as a
subject of congratulation; and we gladly recognize the able agency of Mr. Ducat,
the secretary of the board, in procuring this desirable result."


During the war Mr. Ducat served his country first as a company officer, and,
rising through all the ranks, he became Inspector-General of the army of the
Cumberland on the staff of General Thomas. He left the service early in the
year 1864 on account of his health, after distinguished services on many fields.
General Garfield said of him, "I never knew a man who hated humbug, red tape
and circumlocution as much as Ducat did. He made short cuts to whatever was
to be done, or whatever he had to do, he was direct and forcible, restless under
long instructions, discussions and iterations. . . . He never disobeyed an order,
but supported his superiors to his fullest ability, even when his judgment did not
approve. He was in himself a model example of thorough discipline."

When at length General Ducat became sufficiently restored to health he re-
ceived proposals from a number of the greatest insurance companies, looking to
secure his influence and services at Chicago and adjoining sections in the West.
In 1866, he became the general agent in Chicago of the Home Insurance Company
of New York. The business of that company was highly successful and Ducat
attained great prosperity. "He was by all that were acquainted with the facts
of underwriting regarded as a most judicious and safe agent, and equally a safe
and true friend of the holders of policies."


"The year 1866," says the author of Ducat's Memoir, "was a prosperous one
for insurance companies, and especially was it so in relation to their transactions
in Chicago. The population of the city had increased to two hundred thousand
and was rapidly growing; the money value of individual buildings was constantly
and vastly increasing; and so, not only the number of policies written, but the
amounts they represented, were doubled twice over those of any former year.
Agents from all quarters began suddenly to pour into the city. The sharpness
of the competition between companies was now felt as never before. Again, there-
fore, there was danger that the rules and regulations established by the Board
of Underwriters, and approved by the most prominent eastern companies, would
be in many instances disregarded, and that the board itself might be broken up."


Throughout the war period and for some years afterwards only the influence
of the stronger companies was effective in preventing a collapse of the rates es-
tablished by the Board of Underwriters. Still there was cutting by the weaker
companies, and the appearance of many "wild cats" had a most demoralizing ef-
fect. It was difficult to maintain the desired uniformity, and at times the situ-
ation seemed hopeless. Fortunately better counsels prevailed and the rebellious
ones gradually relented and joined in the efforts of the board, working together
at length "in a community of interest, for mutual protection under a fixed tariff
of rates and rules, of sound and healthy practice of underwriting."


The Board of Underwriters, upon the suggestion of General Ducat, organized
a Fire Patrol modeled after something of the kind in New York City. The Patrol
made its first appearance on the streets a week before the great fire occurred. On
the Saturday before the fire its new and brilliantly painted wagons arrived, "and
the carefully selected horses were harnessed to them, all the men turned out in
clean uniform suits and hats of glaze, and with considerable pride and pomp showed
themselves to the public." But the efficiency of the Fire Patrol, designed primarily
to save the contents of burning buildings from damage by water, had little oppor-
tunity to prove itself under the circumstances. The Patrol was intended to work
with the Fire Department which on that awful occasion was itself crippled and
nearly destroyed.

The Fire Insurance Patrol "was exclusively the affair of the insurance com-
panies; they jointly purchased equipment; they proposed alone to pay the cost
of maintaining the Patrol. They appointed at General Ducat's request Benja-
min B. Bullwinkle to be the head of the Patrol. A home for the carts and stabling
for the horses and bunks for the men, these had all been provided in a convenient
quarter. But unfortunately it was in a quarter that was early reached by the
conflagration which began the next day, and the Patrol and its belongings were
consumed in it. Some of the companies that had contributed to organize and sup-
port it were rendered insolvent, and for a short time its reorganization was de-
layed; but the original friends, who had once given it body and life, were equal
to the task of reviving and perpetuating it.

"For two or three years the task was hard, but by 1875 the organization was
secure, and measures were taken to render it perfect. A committee of the Board
of Underwriters was appointed to prepare rules and regulations for the govern-
ment of the Fire Patrol. General Ducat was at the head of the committee, con-
sisting of himself, General Charles W. Drew and Thomas Buckley, and the rules
and regulations were largely of his devising. They had a military cast, and were
promulgated in true military fashion. The fire Patrol thus organized, equipped and
started on its career of unsurpassed usefulness, was a great achievement; and while
the credit of its creation and promotion has to be divided among several, it is only
bare justice to say that General Ducat is entitled to a large share of it. He lived

Online LibraryJ. Seymour (Josiah Seymour) CurreyChicago: its history and its builders, a century of marvelous growth (Volume v.2) → online text (page 39 of 55)