Great Baltimore Fire, February 7–8, 1904
In February 1904, Baltimore, Maryland was hit with one of the “great fires” that have plagued cities for millennia. There were a number of such massively destructive fires in US and Canadian cities within a few years: Chelsea, MA (1908… the second such disaster there, followed by another in 1973!); Sioux City, IA (1904); Toronto, ON (1904), and of course the city-leveling fire that followed the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.
But the Baltimore fire of 1904 was one of a triad that year, and probably more than even the San Francisco disaster to follow raised enormous interest in “fireproof” construction to replace the acres of largely wooden, or brick with wooden support and floor structure buildings that burned so readily. Baltimore lost 1,500 buildings, with another 1,000 damaged beyond repair, across some 140 acres of city space.
Frank Gilbreth was on the ground in Baltimore within days, but in the end, FBG only built three replacement structures there. It was likely a taste of how his Boston-bred connections and reputation would not translate well to other close-knit, provincial cities who preferred men of local reputation over outsiders, especially outsiders who could be seen to be capitalizing on their misfortune. The situation would repeat, in greater scale, in San Francisco.