1872 Currier and Ives View of the Great Boston Fire

The Great Fire at Boston, November 9th and 10th 1872. - Main View

1872 Currier and Ives View of the Great Boston Fire


The fire that Destroyed Boston.


The Great Fire at Boston, November 9th and 10th 1872.
  1872 (dated)     11.5 x 14.5 in (29.21 x 36.83 cm)


This is an 1872 Currier and Ives chromolithograph view of the Great Boston Fire of 1872. Flames engulf the city's commercial district and smoke billows skyward off the page. Debris can be seen flying through the inferno. The Charles River appears in the foreground, with a handful of ships bobbing on the water. Boston's church spires can be seen along its skyline and the dome of the Massachusetts State House appears at center.
The Great Boston Fire of 1872
The Great Boston Fire began in the basement of a building on the corner of Kingston and Summer Streets in Boston's commercial district on the evening of November 9, 1872. People first noticed the fire around 7:00 p.m., but an alarm was not sounded until 7:24 p.m. By 8:00 p.m., every fire engine in Boston was on the scene. The fire spread easily due to dry wooden building materials and Boston's narrow streets. That made it possible for the fire to jump from building to building and street to street. It took twelve hours to control the inferno, and fire crews came from as far as New Haven, Connecticut, to help. In the end, the fire was contained thanks to the valiant effort to save the Old South Meetinghouse at the corner of Washington and Milk Streets.
Difficulties in Fighting the Blaze
There were several factors that led to Boston's difficulties in containing the Great Fire. Boston boasted the world's first system of telegraph-based fire alarm boxes, which were installed in 1852. However, the boxes were locked in an effort to prevent false alarms and keys were only given to a small number of citizens in any given neighborhood. This meant that the first witnesses to the Great Fire had to find one of the key-holders to be able to sound the alarm. Another problem was that the Boston Fire Department was dealing with an epidemic of an equine flu, which had weakened nearly all the horses it used for pulling its engines. In response, Chief Engineer John Damrell preemptively hired 500 people to manually pull the engines. An investigation after the fire stated that it was believed that this epidemic only delayed deployment by five or ten minutes. A third, and possibly most critical, problem was that Boston's water mains were old and leaked, causing serious water pressure issues. This meant that Boston's firefighters could not get enough water pressure out of many hydrants to reach the upper floors or roofs of buildings. Chief Damrell had been asking the city for years to improve the water mains but was never successful. Boston began improving the water main system after the Great Fire.
Chromolithography, sometimes called oleography, is a color lithographic technique developed in the mid-19th century. The process involved using multiple lithographic stones, one for each color, to yield a rich composite effect. Oftentimes, the process would start with a black basecoat upon which subsequent colors were layered. Some chromolithographs used 30 or more separate lithographic stones to achieve the desired product. Chromolithograph color could also be effectively blended for even more dramatic results. The process became extremely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when it emerged as the dominant method of color printing. The vivid color chromolithography produced made it exceptionally effective for advertising and propaganda imagery. 
Publication History and Census
This view was created and published by Currier and Ives in 1872. Scarce.


Nathaniel Currier (March 27, 1813 - November 20, 1888) was an American lithographer best known as part of 'Currier and Ives'. Born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, Currier attended public schools until fifteen, when he apprenticed with the Boston lithographic firm of William and John Pendleton. The Pendletons were the first successful lithographers in the United States and were responsible for educating the next generation of lithographic printers. In 1833, Currier left the Pendleton's shop to work with M.E.D. Brown in Philadelphia. A year later, Currier moved to New York City, where he planned to start a business with John Pendleton. When Pendleton backed out, Currier found a new partner, founding 'Currier and Stodart', but the concern survived for just a year. Currier opened his own lithographic studio in 1835 as an eponymous sole-proprietorship. He initially printed the standard materials, including letterheads, sheet music, and handbills. Later in 1835, Currier began issuing current event imagery. Some of his news printers were issued in the New York Sun. By 1840, Currier had moved away from 'job printing' and further toward fine-print publishing. His Awful Conflagration of the Steam Boat 'Lexington', was published in the Sun that year, as well as being separately issued. James Ives (March 5, 1824 - January 3, 1895) began working under Currier in 1850 as a bookkeeper. Ives contributed greatly to the growth of the business, particularly as a manager, marketer, and businessman. Ives became a full partner in 1857, and the firm was renamed 'Currier and Ives'. Currier and Ives produced over 7,500 images and is best remembered for its popular art prints, particularly Christmas scenes and landscapes. They also produced banners, illustrations of current events, views, and historical scenes. Currier retired in 1880 and turned the business over to his son Edward. Currier married Eliza West Farnsworth in 1840, with whom he had one child Edward West Currier. Eliza died in 1843. Currier remarried to Lura Ormsbee in 1847. Other than being a lithographer, Currier also served as a volunteer New York City fireman during the 1850s, and he liked fast horses. More by this mapmaker...

James Merritt Ives (March 5, 1824 - January 3, 1895) was an American businessman, bookkeeper, and lithographer who oversaw the business side of the famed lithographic firm Currier and Ives. Born in New York City, Ives was a self-trained artist who began working at the age of twelve. He married Caroline Clark (1827 - 1896) on June 24, 1846, who was the sister-in-law of Nathaniel Currier's brother, Charles Currier. In 1852, Nathaniel Currier (March 27, 1813 - November 20, 1888) hired Ives as the bookkeeper for his firm N. Currier, Lithographer, on Charles's recommendation. Ives' talent for art and his knowledge of the artistic world soon became apparent to Currier, who valued his insights as well as the business acumen. Currier offered Ives a full partnership in 1857. They renamed the firm 'Currier and Ives' with Ives as the general manager. Ives began to play a role in selecting artists and prints to publish, and was responsible for pursuing publication of scenes of middle-class America that made the firm famous. After Ives died in 1895, his sons continued to work with Currier's son to manage the firm until it was liquidated in 1907. Learn More...


Very good. Minor foxing lower left margin.


Yale University, Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, 1946.9.1561.