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Oct. 8, 1871: Great Chicago Fire starts

Kelly O'Mara
October 8, 2013

Legend has it that on Oct. 8, 1871, Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern, starting the Great Chicago Fire. While the cow story was never verified, the fire did start on the evening of Oct. 8 and go on to kill more than 300 people, leave 100,000 homeless (one-third the city’s population at the time), and cause $200 million in damages – more than $3 billion in today’s dollars.

While the fire was one of America’s biggest natural disasters, the rebuilding of the city turned it into an international destination. Chicago was already growing rapidly before the fire, but with the opportunity to build from the ground up, the city created a system of parks and a grid-like map of roads – becoming more than just a city of industry.

These days, 40 million people visit Chicago annually, traveling to tourist landmarks like the Willis Tower (aka the Sears Tower), Buckingham Fountain and Wrigley Field.