Danbury's Firebug of the 1880s and 1890s

Brian R. Stevens

Abstract

Danbury, Connecticut in January 1891 had endured most of the preceding three years plagued by arson. Danburians of that period were on the one hand proud of their hometown’s new status as a City which had just been chartered in April 1889, but on the other hand apprehensive; the old familiar streets were more crowded and the political establishment was in an unprecedented state of upheaval. The population had nearly doubled over the preceding decade and the new city was in dire need of sidewalks, roads and sewers. In the preceding year, there had been predictions that up to 2000 hatters, more than 10% of Danbury’s population, would be out of work due to an economic slowdown. There was also substantial municipal debt. It is amidst the upheaval or even perhaps as a result of it that some person or persons began setting fires, among the largest the area had seen up to that point, with the apparent intention of influencing the course of the new City. Blame for the fires was pinned on a person or persons the Press referred to as the "Firebug," but after three years and seemingly no closer to catching the "Firebug," in 1891, authorities resorted to hiring at great expense an operative from Pinkerton's National Detective Agency to help.