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Great Boston Fire of 1872: Topics in Chronicling America

A guide for researching the topic of the "Great Boston Fire of 1872" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


BOSTON, SHOWING THE BURNED DISTRICT. November 12, 1872, The Sun (New York, NY), Page 1, Image 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

An intense fire sweeps over the city of Boston on the evening of November 9, 1872, engulfing its narrow streets and buildings for nearly fifteen hours. Firefighters desperate to control the flames use gunpowder to blow up buildings to break the fire's path. Business owners risk their lives to save their assets, while looters try and take advantage of the chaos. Boston’s most prominent neighborhoods are destroyed and the city suffers one of the most costly fires in American history. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


November 9, 1872 (7:00 p.m.) The fire starts in the basement of a commercial warehouse on Summer Street.
November 9, 1872 (11:00 p.m.) The fire travels a mile into the heart of the business district.
November 10, 1872 (2:30 a.m.) Firefighters and police blow up buildings trying to combat the oncoming deluge.
November 10, 1872 (3:30 a.m.) Gas explosions in several buildings reignite the flames.
November 10, 1872 The fire continues burning. The Chief-Fire Engineer is killed by a collapsing wall. The fire is brought under control around 3:00 pm and much of the danger is over.
November 11, 1872 Most newspapers are reporting timelines of the blaze. Reported losses reach up to $80,000,000 in damage.
November 12, 1872 Casualty numbers are first reported in the Evening Star, amongst others. Around 30 people died in the fire.
November 16, 1872 Cleanup and rebuilding efforts begin.