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General Grant was President. For instance, one Sunday night in October, 1871, an upset lamp started a fatal fire in Chicago. This place had risen rapidly from a very small village and fort to a huge city. The blaze started near vast lumber yards, at a time when a strong breeze was blowing, and it soon developed into one of the worst fires the world has ever seen. In spite of heroic efforts, the flames spread and spread, until the city was a raging sea of fire.
Cinders fell in such showers that some of the terrified people had to take refuge in the lake. There they stood for hours, up to their necks in water, dashing it over their heads to prevent their hair from catching fire. For two days the fire raged, sweeping over about two thousand acres; and when it was over, Chicago was in ruins, and the people had lost about two hundred million dollars' worth of property. When it became known that the main part of Chicago had been destroyed, and that a hundred thousand people were homeless, help was quickly sent on to them. Every one contributed something, and the government forwarded tents and rations, so that the people should have food and shelter. Now, Chicago people have always been noted for their pluck. Without wasting time in useless laments, therefore, they went bravely to work to rebuild their homes and fortunes. Men who had been wealthy two days before, handled the pick and shovel to earn a living for themselves and families. Before long this energy bore good fruit, for Chicago is now the largest city in our country, except New York.
As if one fire had not been enough, unusually large forest fires next swept over Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan, in which many people lost their lives. The very next year, Boston was also visited in the same way, a large part of the city and about eighty millions' worth of property being burned.
Two of our principal towns thus suffered great losses by fire; but a third, New York, lost nearly as much by the "Tweed Ring." This was formed by a number of dishonest officers, who stole a great deal of the city's money. But they were finally arrested, tried, and punished, and their ringleader, or "boss," William Tweed, died shortly after in jail.
Awful fires, political troubles, and speculation did great harm to business, and brought about the panic of 1873, which was even worse than those of 1837 and 1857. But after a few years of " hard times," business again flourished, and the country became as prosperous as before.
The year 1873 is also noted for a change in our system of money. Before that time our money had consisted of both gold and silver—as much of each as the people would bring to the mint to be coined. But for several years very little silver had been brought in, and in 1873 Congress stopped the coinage of silver dollars.
Our nation was rapidly approaching its hundredth birthday, and centennial celebrations were talked of on all sides. First there were the centennials of the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, and then of the British leaving Boston. But it was rightly felt that the grandest of all celebrations should be held at Philadelphia, to celebrate the Declaration of Independence.
After some discussion, it was decided to have a World's Fair in Fairmount Park. Buildings of all kinds and sizes
were put up; exhibits were sent from all the countries of the world; and many, many thousands of people went to see all the beautiful and interesting things the Philadelphia Exposition contained.
The most interesting of all these exhibits, however, was the old "Liberty Bell," which had pealed forth joyfully to proclaim the Declaration df Independence. Since that day it had rung many times, but it was now quite dumb. It had rung its last note on Washington's hundred and thirteenth birthday, and a huge crack showed that it could never ring again. The visitors were not only Americans from all parts of our Union, but people Liberty Bell. from foreign lands who came to see what the Americans had done. They greatly admired the riches of our country in metals, produce, industry, and especially in useful inventions.
Since the Monitor fought the Merrimac, wooden ships had little by little been replaced by iron vessels, and railroads had greatly improved. Indeed, the Pullman cars were as unlike the first "coaches" as the modern steamships were unlike the Indian canoes. Bicycles and typewriters were then new and wonderful things; the telephone had just been invented by Bell, and electric lights by Edison.
This last-named inventor was once a poor newsboy on a train. As he was not afraid of work, he earned his own living, and being very quick to learn, never lost an opportunity to do so.
Once he saved the child of a telegraph operator from being run over, and when the grateful father offered to teach him telegraphy, he gladly set to work. This knowledge soon proved very useful. One day there was an ice jam between Port Huron and the town opposite. It was important to send a message, and Edison, who was always quick-witted, said he thought he could telegraph it by means of long and short whistles from a locomotive.
He therefore seized the throttle, and began to signal: "Hello, there, over the river!" But it was some time before the people on the opposite bank understood the meaning of these strange long and short whistles. When it finally dawned upon them, they were delighted, and gladly used this simple means of communication.
Little by little, Edison rose in his profession, and, studying scientific books, he decided that there must be some way