Geography set Chicago at the crossroads of the nation and its resources. The
five themes of geography—location, place,
movement, human-environment interaction,
and regions (see Illinois History Teacher,
volume 1) — illustrate why Chicago not only
recovered, but expanded as a result of the
Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Especially relevant are Chicago's location, its role as a
hub for movement across the nation, and
the human-environment interaction that not
only started the fire but was seed to the
new style of architecture that germinated in
the fire's ashes.
Connection with the Curriculum
Illinois history, U. S. history, and
Materials for Each Student
• Regional map of Chicago showing
physical features as well as economic
• Map of Chicago showing fire zone
Objectives for Each Student
• Identify the geographic factors that
influenced Chicago's early growth
and economic roles.
• Analyze Chicago's geographic setting
and economic needs after the fire.
• Analyze the benefits of the new architectural techniques developed by the
TEACHING THE LESSON
Opening the Lesson
With Handout 1— regional maps of
Chicago—students should identify factors
that would make Chicago a good place to
settle or begin a business after the Civil
War. Discuss the Handout with special
emphasis on how various transportation
systems would use Chicago as a hub linking the resources of the Midwest and West
to the industries and markets of the East
Coast. Then use Handout 1, Question 3, to
briefly analyze the students' own vicinity in
regard to similar factors.
Developing the Lesson
As homework or in classroom groups:
• Have students read the narrative
portion of the article.
• On an overhead projector or with
individual maps, show students the
area affected by the Great Fire.
• Have students analyze the map to
see what portions of the city core
were destroyed, and complete the
questions on Handout 2.
• Discuss Handout 2, emphasizing the
students' ideas for how the architecture helped to solve problems or ease
the concerns of Chicago citizens.
Concluding the Lesson
• Compare photographs of a pre- and
post-fire building in Chicago, and have
students point out and explain some
architectural differences and why
these differences developed.
Extending the Lesson
• Take an architectural walking tour
of the Chicago Loop. Contact:
Chicago Architecture Foundation
224 S. Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60604-2507
• Visit one of the many Frank Lloyd
Wright sites in Illinois.
• Have a member of the local city planning board speak to the class about
local planning issues.
Assessing the Lesson
• Have students do a needs assessment or planning project for their
• Have students write an essay on
Chicago's prime geographic appeal.
• Have students research the effects
of other disasters, historical or recent.
- What is Chicago's relative location?
- What factors might have influenced Chicago's location and growth?
- How does Chicago's location promote trade?
- What environmental factors would be detrimental to Chicago's growth?
After the 1871 Fire
Read the narrative portion of the article. Then study the map of the fire zone
and answer the following questions:
- What materials would be needed for Chicago to recover?
- What problems did the city face in recovery?
- Thinking of how the city would not just recover, but improve,
what new ideas or restrictions might Chicago implement?
- What were the key factors in Chicago's quick recovery?
- What are the benefits of steel-skeleton construction?
- What changes would you make to your town's current planning?
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