Early Chicago, 1833–1871
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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December 16, 1835

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From the time of Chicago's incorporation as a town, fire protection was one of its responsibilities but not until after October 1834, when a serious fire caused over $2,000 in damages to several structures, were serious steps taken. The mayor then was authorized to purchase fire fighting equipment. In October of 1835 the Pioneer Hook and Ladder Company, the first effective volunteer fire company, was organized and in November of that year an ordinance created the Volunteer Fire Department of the Town of Chicago with a chief engineer, two assistants, and four wardens to direct volunteer companies. All able-bodied citizens in the vicinity of a fire were required to rush to the scene with full buckets of water to aid the volunteer companies. Principal sources of water for fighting fires were the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. Hydrants from a city water supply were not available until 1842. Companies retained much of their independenceas they elected their own officers. By 1846 there were over thirty-three volunteer companies. Besides fighting fires, members of these companies socialized at firemen's banquets and balls and marched together in parades on special occasions. Volunteer firemen were exempt from jury duty, militia service, and the road tax. It was not until 1858 that a paid professional fire department was instituted.

Points to Consider

How many gallons were contained in a hogshead?

From which sources could water be drawn to fight fires? Why would a portable cistern be required?

Who was M. B. Beaubien?

With the camaraderie established by mutual volunteer work, what special role did these fire companies play?

See Related Document:

1, 4, 10, 15, 27, and 50

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