Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Summer 2015

Abstract

The Connecticut State Firemen’s Association, which was formed in 1885, reported that incendiarism was an increasing problem around Connecticut, but Danbury’s fire bug of the 1880s and 1990s was extraordinary. The fire bug caused the modern equivalent of tens of millions of dollars in damage around Danbury and many of the fires were in such close proximity that there was an area dubbed to be the "Firebug District." The fire bug was elusive to Danbury’s police, and by 1891, with three years yielding no real suspect, authorities hired an operative from Pinkerton's National Detective Agency. The Pinkerton operative’s investigation ultimately led to no arrests, though after his investigation there were significantly fewer incendiary fires reported and, except for a couple of fires in 1893, none in the press attributed to a fire bug. While there was no single culprit or group that was indicted for Danbury’s rash of fires during this period, the fire bug episode was the byproduct and confluence of the political, labor, and ethnic unrest that was playing out on a local and national level. Moreover, the episode punctuated Danbury’s difficult transition both in name and nature to becoming a city. In the middle of these fiery expressions was Morris Meyers, the first Chief of the City of Danbury’s paid fire department; Meyers was a successful Democrat and a German Jewish immigrant whose important place in the new city government was the embodiment of a shift in the composition of the electorate.

Comments

This is the final draft version and differs slightly from the published version.

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