The Vault: A Fledgeling Company Helps Save a Fledgeling City

In 1871, the Great Chicago Fire burned 70,000 homes and destroyed over $200 million ($3.8 billion today) of property. Baird & Warner (known as Baird & Bradley in 1871) was 16 years old and specialized in mortgage lending, property management, and insurance. The company had seen the city’s population triple since opening their doors, and they were growing rapidly, too.

The fire broke out around 9 p.m. in the southern part of the city, and Lyman Baird hurried to his office and found it engulfed in flames. Meanwhile, the rest of the family was preparing to flee their home, which they lost along with everything they owned.

As the fire slowly burned out, Lyman found amid the ashes of the office that the company’s vaults were intact, along with all of the company’s records.

The records became especially important to the city because all of its public real estate records had been destroyed. Baird & Bradley’s ledgers and papers served to assure continuity in titles and lot lines as companies and individuals quickly moved to rebuild their stores and offices.