Archive ID: 1993-049-3

Grain elevator fire at 102nd and Calumet River

Date Created: circa 1939

Donor: Alex Savastano

Media Type: Photograph


The most spectacular fire involving grain elevators on the Southeast Side occurred on May 11, 1939 on a slip near 102nd and the Calumet River. An explosion occurred at the Rosenbaum Elevator A near Commercial Avenue on the north side of Slip No. 2 on the Calumet River. The fire spread to Elevators B and C progressing eastward toward the river. The fire then jumped the 100 foot wide slip to the south and ignited the Norris elevators No. 1 and No. 2. Two Chicago fireboats helped to fight the blaze. The Fred A. Busse, built only 2 years earlier in 1937, and the Joseph Medill, the City’s only other fireboat. The Busse pumped twice as much water onto the flames at a lower operating cost than the Medill. The Busse operated 53 hours and 35 minutes without interruption and was given much of the credit for putting the blaze out in a relatively short time. Fire officials stated that most grain elevator fires take 5 or 6 days to completely extinguish. This fire was over in 48 hours. The Busse was a diesel powered fireboat whose fuel tanks give it a 71 hour operating time while the Medill was powered by a coal fueled steam engine. The Medill had to leave the fire twice for additional coal. Also during the fire the steam turbine of the Medill blew up and the boat was disabled. This photo shows the Busse approaching the fire while the Medill pours water on the blaze from the slip adjacent to the burning grain elevators. By the time the fire ended 5 elevators were destroyed and 9 individuals were killed. 20 railroad freight cars were also burned in the 4 million dollar blaze. The Chicago Fire Department had two fireboats at the scene which helped put the fire out relatively quickly. Crowds estimated at 25,000 watched firemen battle the blaze. Fires at the site continued to break out sporadically and the remains of the fire gave off a stench for several months.

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Disasters   Historic Events   1920-1939 (Depression Era)   South Deering   Other/Unknown   Photograph   1993-049   Boats   Buildings   Firefighters   Firemen   Fires   General Mills   Grain elevators   Harbors