1903 Iroquiose Theatre Fire

Topics: Construction, Theatre, Fire protection Pages: 9 (3452 words) Published: February 26, 2014
Iroquois theater fire
Since the inception of human civilization, fire has been both a cause of disaster as well as a resource of comfort to man. United States has had a long historical record of fire disasters that have claimed thousands of lives and caused heavy destruction of property.  Some of the most disastrous fires in the United States in the 20th century include the Iroquois theater fire in Chicago in 1903, general Slocum wheel boat  fire in 1904 the Ohio State penitentiary fire in 1930, the San Francisco fire in 1909 among other major fires that caused heavy loss of human lives and destruction. After the fire disasters, the fire and safety authorities in the United States have instigated various safety codes in various zones to protect people and property from the imminent risk of fires. This paper investigates the Iroquois theater fire, with special focus on the failure of existing code processes at the time, the impact of the fire disaster on the code processes after the incident and the current code processes. Event history

In one cold afternoon of December 30 1903 in Chicago, about 2000 patrons most of whom were women and children assembled in Iroquois theatre. In addition, about 400 performers and stage actors were jammed in the basement, backstage and dressing rooms to witness what was surely an exciting show.   The audience was full of anticipation in readiness to watch a musical comedy, Mr. Bluebeard.  Five weeks prior to the staging of the music comedy, the 1,700 capacity Iroquois theater had just been opened   with much excitement from the public and the press (Marshall 1904). The Chicago Tribune one of the most reputable dailies in the city described the theater as “virtual temple of beauty” (Marshall 1904, p102).  Iroquois theater was the finest of all theaters that had been constructed in the United States at the time. It had been lavishly furnished with marble and plate glass with luxurious mahogany and ornamentation.  The theater had a splendid promenade lobby with a sixty feet ceiling from the floor. An impressive flight of staircases ascended on both sides of the theatre. At around 3.00pm, the theater caught fire and in about fifteen minutes, 602 people had died and over 250 were seriously injured.  The Iroquois theatre tragedy is deadliest theater tragedy and single building fire in the history of the United States (Anthony 2003). The Iroquois tragedy was not the first in the history of fire accidents in theaters and playhouses. Fires had raged about 607 playhouses in the 19th century globally. American theaters accounted for the most fire tragedies from the late 18th to early 20th century (Pilbrow, 2000). New York was the most affected accounting to twenty-six theater fires followed by San Francisco and Philadelphia, which had recorded twenty-one and seventeen theater fires respectively. Other region most affected by theater fires in the United States from 1798 to 1903 included Boston, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Baltimore, which recorded a total of forty-nine theater fires (Agee, 1993 pp 72-76) Several factors contributed to the high incidents of theater fires in the United States   between 18th and early 20th century. heating and lighting problems were the most common factors that contributed to most theater fires but there were few reported incidents of arsons attacks on playhouses.  The hazardous lighting and heating systems were worsened by extensive use of wood in construction of both interior and exterior parts of the buildings (Pilbrow, 2000).  In addition, the theaters were poorly designed where emergency exits in case of fires and other accidents were not well emphasized and constructed to facilitate quick evacuation of people. Other theaters were constructed hurriedly   increasing the incidents of structural failures that made the buildings vulnerable to fires. Several theaters in the United States were constructed within three months and were used for performances...
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