Select your localized edition:

Close ×

More Ways to Connect

Discover one of our 28 local entrepreneurial communities »

Be the first to know as we launch in new countries and markets around the globe.

Interested in bringing MIT Technology Review to your local market?

MIT Technology ReviewMIT Technology Review - logo

 

Unsupported browser: Your browser does not meet modern web standards. See how it scores »

{ action.text }

The Iroquois Theater blaze

What the Titanic’s sinking represented at sea, the burning of Chicago’s Iroquois Theater marked on land: a supposedly indestructible, up-to-the-minute design-in this case, a theater advertised as “absolutely fireproof”-destroyed with an enormous loss of life. The Iroquois’s owners acted with as much haste and hubris as their Titanic counterparts, installing no firefighting equipment, forgoing fire drills and opening before the sprinkler system was ready. Instead, like so many others, they relied on a single technological magic bullet: an asbestos curtain that would drop down and shield the audience in the (rather common) event of a backstage fire. On Dec. 30, 1903, as vaudeville star Eddie Foy regaled the overcapacity crowd in Mr. Bluebeard, an oil-painted backdrop brushed against a hot calcium-arc spotlight and ignited. The asbestos curtain started dropping on cue but caught on a stage light. Crew and cast opened the stage door to flee, admitting a powerful gust that sent fireballs shooting out over the unshielded audience. Fleeing patrons either found the doors barred or could not turn the newfangled latches on them. Six hundred two died, more than twice the toll of “the Great Chicago Fire” 32 years earlier.

1 comment. Share your thoughts »

Tagged: Communications

Reprints and Permissions | Send feedback to the editor

From the Archives

Close

Introducing MIT Technology Review Insider.

Already a Magazine subscriber?

You're automatically an Insider. It's easy to activate or upgrade your account.

Activate Your Account

Become an Insider

It's the new way to subscribe. Get even more of the tech news, research, and discoveries you crave.

Sign Up

Learn More

Find out why MIT Technology Review Insider is for you and explore your options.

Show Me