Burning of New York City Hall - 1858


Original title: Burning of the City Hall New York, on the night of the 17th August 1858 – Supposed to have taken fire from the fire works exhibited in commemoration of the successful laying of the Atlantic telegraph cable. Hand-colored lithographed and published by Currier & Ives. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A fireworks display in 1858 led to the near destruction of City Hall. The occasion was the laying of the first transatlantic telegraph cable, from Valentia Island off the west coast of Ireland to Bay of Bulls, Newfoundland. The first communications occurred on August 16th 1858, the day before the fire. The celebration included the lighting of public buildings and shooting fireworks over City Hall Park. Unnoticed sparks penetrated the metal covering of the dome and, by the morning of August 18, the roof was ablaze. The headquarters of Currier & Ives was at 152 Nassau Street, near the Printing House Square, and they quickly issued this dramatic lithograph. The line speed was poor and efforts to improve it caused the cable to fail after three weeks. A permanent transatlantic cable was successfully laid in 1866.

The fire caused extensive damage to the City Hall. The attic floor, roof and cupola, with the first sculpture of Justice on top, were destroyed. In 1917, another fire destroyed the tower and it was rebuilt again following the original design by John McComb Jr. (1763–1853).

Interestingly, a watchman used to be stationed in the upper part of the cupola of the City Hall, whose office was to give fire alarms in other parts of the city by ringing a huge bell fixed in a small cupola at the hinder part of the building. The number of bell rings indicated the part of the city where the fire was occurring.

Over the years, utility overhead wires for services like telegraph, telephone, signaling, lighting and electric power have caused serious security problems, in addition to an ugly cityscape. After the Great Blizzard of 1888, overhead wires and cables went underground.


City Hall Fire




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New York City


19th century City Hall Park


Great Blizzard 1888


New York Governors Island


Great Fire 1835


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Burning of New York City Hall - 1858



Historic Buildings