Devices labeled "oxygen tanks"
were brought to Thompson's diner to help treat
Iroquois burn victims but the configuration of those
devices is not known. Were they the bladder
type systems of the late 1800s, powered by foot
pumps, or the electricity-powered canisters that
appeared a few years later? Would such devices
have hurt more than they helped?
As a center of medical
education in the U.S., and home to several large
medical distributors, technology in Chicago was
ahead of Podunkville, but much that is part of
treating inhalation injuries today was not available
or known in 1903. For many Iroquois victims who
survived after breathing large amounts of smoke,
pneumonia was inevitable,* with a high mortality
rate, most dying within the first week.
Treatment then for pneumonia was mostly palliative.
Blind intubation, for example, would not be
discovered for another decade, during WWI.
Penicillin had been discovered but its power in
controlling bacteria was three decades away and an
understanding of effective use of humidified oxygen
and IV fluids was even further off.
The Chicago coroner
bulk-filed Iroquois victims on January 25, 1904 so
the filing included victims who died days or weeks
after the fire. Many families used December
30, 1903 as the death date on tombstones even if
their loved one died days later.
American Oxygen Association's Apparatus
This large size Generator has almost unlimited
capacity, being so arranged, by a system of
interchangeable retorts that it can be used
continuously, yielding a constant stream of
thoroughly purified oxygen, at the rate of one to
two gallons per minute, as long as desired. It
proves so efficient for producing the gas in
considerable quantities that it is likely to
supersede [sic] the larger forms of oxygen
Truax/Green Co. catalog 1892
"Oxygen to Save Life
It was a long and patient work, that of restoring
life to the poor sufferers.
Dozens of oxygen generators came from the stores.
Boys and men pulled them from one helpless victim to
another. If there was a sign of life the rubber tube
was inserted in the mouth and the oxygen forced into
newspaper journalist, 1904
"Supplies were received from Truax, Greene & Co.,
and A.C. Clark & Co. [capitalizing on the
Iroquois disaster for commercial promotion was not
uncommon], including tongue forceps,
mouth props and oxygen tanks. These were immediately
brought into use. Out of about 175 placed on the
tables we were able by the oxygen equipment to save
from twenty-five to thirty. If the equipment had
been at hand when the doctors first arrived at least
twenty-five more would have been alive today.”
Albert Charles Clark, 1904
Discrepancies and addendum
* In the course of trying to
understand medical treatment in 1903 I came across a
sobering tidbit: of the people who died in Chicago
in May of 1903, twenty-nine percent, or 172,
succumbed to pneumonia.
Iroquois Theater renamed
Colonial Theater in 1909
School teacher Bessie
St Marys and Notre Dame
students Iroquois Theater victims
Three Billionaire cast
members died in Chicago
Indianapolis stage worker
Didn't Do It
Iroquois Theater grand
Survivor story reaches to
Huntsville and North Carolina
Three Oshkosh survivors
Lowitz and Keokuk
If you have additional
info about an Iroquois victim, or find an error, I would like to
hear from you. Chaos and communication limitations of 1903
produced many errors I'm striving to correct and welcome all the help I can get. Space is provided at the
bottom of stories for comments, or
me directly. To receive email notification of new content,
let me know.
(Don't expect your inbox to fill up with emails as I rarely consider
a story to be finished. For Facebook users, following the
Facebook page will mostly accomplish the same end since mostly
completed Iroquois stories are posted there. Mostly.)