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7 Fires That Changed History

September 22, 2020 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

Massive fires have erased vital artifacts, but also led to significant reform and rebuilding.

Throughout history, fires have led to drastic changes in population patterns, infrastructure, and the course of world events. Here are seven fires that changed history.

1. The Burning of the Great Library of Alexandria

The: The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City.

“The Great Rebuilding” that occurred in the fire’s wake transformed Chicago and made it a new, powerful hub for business. Over $10 million was donated to the community. “This was soon accompanied by a great deal of capital investment,” says Smith, “since Chicago’s crucial position between the natural resources of the American hinterland and the consumer appetites—for grain, meat, and a wide range of other commodities and goods— of the East and Europe made its rebuilding a high priority and a sound investment for investors. The fire became critical to the image of Chicago as the embodiment of the irresistible force of modernity in America.”

WATCH: The Great Chicago Fire on HISTORY Vault

5. Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (TV-PG; 3:29)

WATCH: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 1911 killed 146 employees of the Triangle Waist Company who were trapped in the Asch Building in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Many leapt to their deaths in twos and threes or perished in droves by locked exits. “Everybody who jumped was killed. It was a horrifying spectacle,” said eyewitness Frances Perkins. Most of the victims were young women and immigrants, many of whom had come to the United States in hopes of a better life.

The fire united organized labor, and public outcry over the incident pressured the national government to take action to protect workers, leading to new workplace safety laws. Perkins was so outraged that she devoted her life to defending workers’ rights. She went on to help set up the Factory Investigating Commission and eventually became Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of Labor during the New Deal, transforming the landscape of work in America.

READ MORE: How the Horrific Tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Led to Workplace Safety Laws

6. The Reichstag Fire

The burned-down plenary sessions hall of the Reichstag in Berlin, Germany, February 28, 1933.

Arsonists set the Reichstag, the seat of German parliament, on fire on February 27, 1933. Adolf Hitler, a rising politician who had just been …read more


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