1908 USA photo postcard of aftermath Great Fire Chelsea MA

$26.50 CAD

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Real photo postcard of brick remnants of burnt-out buildings in Chelsea Massachusetts. In the background, burnt-out church with steeple.

Witten message on front (in French) ”One corner of Chelsea after the fire of April 12th 1908”

Postmarked BOSTON APR 29 1908 on 2 cent Washington stamp, mailed to France.

AZO’ photographic paper dates it from 1904-1918.

(Red text is an electronic watermark that is not physically part of the photo for sale)


The Great Chelsea fire of 1908, also known as the First great Chelsea fire, was a conflagration that occurred on 12 April 1908, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Nineteen people were killed, fifteen thousand people were left homeless, and 350 acres (140 ha) were burned in the fire.


It was a warm — and very windy — morning in Chelsea on April 12, 1908, Palm Sunday, when an unthinkable disaster began to unfold. 

It wasn’t that unusual for smoke to be rising from the Boston Blacking Company, a factory where they manufactured shoes and shoe adhesives. So "they soon found out what it was because the wind was bringing the burning embers to them," said George Ostler, a historian and retired Chelsea firefighter who has lectured extensively on the 1908 fire. By the time firefighters got to the scene, the many nearby scrap shops and buildings that stored waste rags had ignited.

There were no fire hydrants. No gas masks. No fire trucks.

"These were all horse-drawn steamers," Ostler said. "They called them steamers at the time."

"It was the fire engine of the day," said Steve Denning, the current Deputy Chief of the Chelsea Fire Department. He says that in 1908 they fought fire with fire — literally.

"It was a steamer that was run by coal," Denning said. "And they would have to fire up the steambox to get enough pressure in the engine to pump water."

Getting the steamers to the scene and getting them going took time. Denning says when it comes to fighting fire, time is the one thing you don’t have.