The Great Chicago Fire

President McKinley Shot: September 6, 1901

Cow cause of Chicago Fire?
The Great Chicago Fire—a fire that would ultimately kill 300 people and destroy more than 17,000 buildings—started in a cow barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary around 9 p.m. on October 8, 1871. Although folklore states that the fire began when Catherine’s cow kicked over an oil lamp, no one really knows how the fire actually began.

It had been unusually hot and dry in Chicago, and in a city predominately built with wood, that meant the fire spread quickly. Despite the efforts of the fire department, the fire raged throughout the night, even jumping the river. Firefighters tried to fight the massive flames with their fire hoses until the city’s waterworks burned, cutting off the hydrants’ supply of water.

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Destruction caused by Chicago Fire
The huge fire burned for about another 24 hours essentially unchecked—consuming a large portion of the city, residential and business districts alike—until it began to burn itself out on the night of the 9th. A light rainstorm that same night helped douse the remaining flames. When the fire was finally out, on the 10th, an area about 4 miles long and almost a mile wide had been burned to the ground, leaving 100,000 people homeless.

Nationwide, newspapers kept their readers up-to-date on this major disaster and its aftermath, reporting the latest fire news they had received by telegraph. The papers also reported on relief efforts, as cities, businesses, and individuals across the country donated money and food to the beleaguered city.

Very latest news on the Chicago FireOn the 11th, the Chicago Tribune published an issue packed with details of the fire, calling it “a conflagration which has no parallel in the annals of history.” (Though in fact the same day as the Chicago fire, October 8, the deadliest fire in U.S. history burned in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, killing more than 1,500 people; but that fire was largely overlooked by newspapers outside Wisconsin in favor of covering the Chicago blaze.)

Despite the devastation of Chicago’s fire, reconstruction (this time using less wood) began almost immediately and businesses quickly reopened, though many in new locations. Within a little more than 20 years, Chicago would rise from its ashes to become a booming city deemed worthy of hosting the 1893 World’s Fair.

Find more articles about the Great Chicago Fire on Newspapers.com. You might even find your Chicago ancestors in the lists of people missing or “lost and found” following the fire.

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Bonnie and Clyde Killed

Bonnie and Clyde Killed: May 23, 1934

Posse that killed Bonnie and Clyde

Posse that killed Bonnie and Clyde

On May 23, 1934, the legendary criminals Bonnie and Clyde were shot and killed by police while driving a stolen car in Louisiana.

Both Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker grew up in the slums of Dallas, Texas, but while Clyde ended up on the wrong side of the law by his teen years, Bonnie seemed to stay out of trouble. The two met in 1930, when Clyde was 20 and Bonnie 19; Bonnie was already married but was separated from her husband. Clyde was sent to prison for robbery not long after their meeting, but the two reunited when he was released in 1932. Clyde initially appeared to try to straighten out his life but soon returned to small-time robberies, this time involving Bonnie in some of his criminal activities.

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Bonnie and Clyde, along with various accomplices, began a crime spree that would last two years. They mostly robbed gas stations, restaurants, and stores, sometimes hitting small banks as well, and in 1934 they engineered a prison break. Whenever the police caught up with them, Clyde and his accomplices rarely hesitated to shoot, allegedly killing 9 officers of the law—and 13 people total—while they were on the run.

Clyde with gun. Photo of Bonnie at right.
Bonnie was often portrayed in newspapers as a “cigar-smoking gun moll,” after police raided a hideout and found photographs of her with a gun in her hand and a cigar in her mouth. (Bonnie vehemently denied she ever smoked cigars, only cigarettes, and there is little evidence that she ever murdered anyone.)

Their crime spree finally ended in May 1934 when Frank Hamer, a Texas Ranger, and his posse tracked down Clyde and Bonnie in Louisiana. The group set up an ambush, hiding along the side of a road. When they saw Bonnie and Clyde’s car, the posse let loose with a hail of more than 100 bullets, killing both of the car’s occupants.

Clyde’s and Bonnie’s gunshot-riddled bodies were taken back to Texas, and thousands of people came to see their corpses. In accordance with Bonnie’s mother’s wishes, the two were given separate funerals and Bonnie was buried apart from Clyde in a different cemetery. At the time of their deaths, Clyde was just 25 and Bonnie 23.

Want to learn more about Bonnie and Clyde? Newspapers.com has thousands of articles about them. Get started searching for them here.

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FDR Moves Thanksgiving

FDR Moves Thanksgiving: November 23, 1939

President schedules Thanksgiving for 1940
In 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt upset the majority of the nation when he changed the date of Thanksgiving. Up to that point, the date of Thanksgiving hadn’t been set by federal law, but since Lincoln’s presidency, it had become tradition to hold the holiday on the last Thursday in November.

In 1939, though, November had five Thursdays, so Thanksgiving was going to fall on the 30th, which retail lobbyists worried would shorten—and therefore hurt—the Christmas shopping season. So in August, Roosevelt decided to move Thanksgiving up a week, to the second-to-last Thursday, the 23rd.

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Happy Franksgiving
The move created an uproar. Not only did many people dislike this change to what had become a tradition, but moving the date of Thanksgiving disrupted vacation plans, football schedules, and calendar production.

Since Thanksgiving’s date wasn’t determined by federal law, individual governors could decide whether their states would side with the president or keep the holiday on its traditional date. That first year, 23 states celebrated on the old date, 22 on the new day, and 3 on both. The two dates began to be known as Republican Thanksgiving and Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving (also commonly called “Franksgiving,” based on the president’s first name), though the division wasn’t entirely along party lines.

Majority of Americans don't want to move Thanksgiving in 1939
The following year, 1940, Roosevelt again moved Thanksgiving to the second-to-last Thursday, and that year 32 states celebrated with the president, while 16 stuck with tradition. Come 1941, data from the last two Christmas shopping seasons revealed that making Thanksgiving come earlier hadn’t had a significant effect on sales, so Roosevelt decided to bow to popular opinion and move Thanksgiving back to its traditional date, with the change to take effect in 1942.

But in the fall of 1941, Congress decided to cement the date of Thanksgiving once and for all by passing a resolution that officially set the date for the fourth Thursday in November. President Roosevelt signed it into law on December 26, 1941.

Find more articles about Roosevelt’s Thanksgiving experiment on Newspapers.com. Or search for other topics that interest you.

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First Woman Elected to Congress Takes Her Seat

First Woman Elected to Congress Takes Her Seat: April 2, 1917

Interview with Jeannette Rankin after she won her first seat seat in Congress
On April 2, 1917, Jeannette Rankin assumed her seat in the House of Representatives, making her the first woman to be elected to Congress.

Rankin was born in Montana in 1880. She graduated from the University of Montana in 1902 and later attended the New York School of Philanthropy (1908–1909), where she studied social work. After a brief time as a social worker in Washington State, she became highly involved in the women’s suffrage movement, particularly in Washington State, Montana, California, and Ohio.

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With the financial backing of her brother, Rankin decided to run in the 1916 congressional election (women in Montana had the right to vote by this time). Though some newspapers initially reported that she had been defeated, Rankin won on a Progressive Republican platform that promoted national women’s suffrage, prohibition, child welfare, and pacifism. Just a few days after Rankin took her seat, the House voted on America’s entrance into World War I. Rankin, standing by her pacifist ideals, was one of about 50 members who voted against the war. Rankin served out her two-year term but decided, rather than running for reelection, to run in the Senate race; however, she lost the Republican nomination.

Ad for Jeannette Rankin's 1940 congressional campaign
Rankin moved to Georgia and resumed promoting peace and social justice. She eventually returned to Montana, again running for—and winning—a seat in the House of Representatives, this time in the 1940 elections. When Congress voted on entering World War II after Pearl Harbor, Rankin, now in her sixties, voted against war with Japan, the only member of Congress to do so. Her vote caused such an uproar in the House that she escaped to a nearby phone booth until she could get away from the furor.

Though her views on nonintervention were well known, her anti-war vote provoked a major backlash from politicians and newspapers alike, and Rankin declined to run for office again. Until her death in 1973, she spent her time traveling and campaigning for social reform, most visibly pacifism.

Interested in learning more about Jeannette Rankin? There are thousands of articles about her on Newspapers.com. Get started searching here.

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Elvis Joins the Army

Elvis Joins the Army

On March 4, 1958, 23-year-old Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army.

Elvis to be sent to Ft. Hood

Elvis, like other young men, had registered for the draft when he turned 18. Then, despite his ensuing fame, he was declared eligible for induction in January 1957, with his draft notice arriving that December. Though he was supposed to report to the Army in January 1958, Elvis was granted a deferment until March so he could finish his current film, King Creole.

Elvis was processed into the Army on March 24, 1958, at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, surrounded by family, friends, and a sea of reporters. The singer entered regular Army service as a private, rather than joining Special Services, in which he would have entertained troops. Elvis was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, for basic training and was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division. While he was at Fort Hood, his mother, with whom he was very close, became seriously ill. Elvis was granted emergency leave, and he was able to make it to her bedside before she passed away in August.

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With his training complete, in September Elvis was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division and was sent to Germany. There, Elvis apparently served dutifully and well as a driver, despite the constant media attention and fledgling amphetamine abuse.Elvis showing his sergeant's stripes
It was while he was serving in Germany that he met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he would later marry. Elvis achieved the rank of sergeant in February 1960, and a month later, on March 5, he was honorably discharged from active duty at the age of 25.

While Elvis had been busy with the Army, his manager, Tom Parker, had been busy keeping the singer’s career rolling. Over the two years of Elvis’s service, Parker released songs that had been recorded before the singer left. Less than a month after returning home, Elvis recorded a new album and a single, “Stuck on You,” which hit number one on the charts the following month. Despite his fear that his fans would leave him in his two-year absence, Elvis was back in business.

Are you an Elvis fan? Find more articles about him on Newspapers.com.

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Black History Papers

Washington Bee
There are many historical black papers that we have on Newspapers.com. These include dozens of papers that were either black owned, were geared toward a black audience, or dealt specifically with topics relevant to African Americans. Though some of these papers may only have a few issues available, they still provide a valuable perspective on the struggles, contributions, and everyday lives of African Americans.

Some of the longest running black papers we have on Newspapers.com are The Pittsburgh Courier, The Washington Bee, and St. Paul-based The Appeal. Long-running newspapers such as these can be especially useful for tracking long-time residents of a city or for seeing how the community and its inhabitants changed over time. On the other hand, if you’re more interested in a specific time period that was historically significant to black history, such as the post-Civil War and Reconstruction era, you can browse through black papers like the Charleston Advocate, Maryville Republican, and Concordia Eagle.

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The historical black papers on Newspapers.com cover a wide geographic area. Though many are based in the South, there are also examples from the Northeast, Midwest, and West. Wherever there was a big enough population of literate African Americans to support a black paper, one often existed (though many were short-lived), with black papers popping up in places you might not initially expect, like Montana.

Though most black papers focused on news that would interest African American readers, some were even narrower in scope, concentrating on specific topics like slavery. Two anti-slavery papers you can find on Newspapers.com are the Liberator (established by famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison) and the Anti-Slavery Bugle.

The Pittsburgh Courier
Some of the black papers on Newspapers.com were quite influential during their heyday. In addition to the previously mentioned Washington Bee, some of these include the Lexington Standard, Kansas City Sun, and Richmond Planet. Others were more controversial, like the Broad Ax, which was often inflammatory. Papers that are especially useful to historians today include the Sedalia Weekly Conservator (for dealing with a variety of racial issues in addition to the news) and the Seattle Republican (for covering conditions for African Americans across the nation).

Black papers can be especially rich resources for finding information on your African American ancestors, as these papers often reported on people and events that white papers overlooked. So get started searching on Newspapers.com here.

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