Though Chicago's building codes required
sprinklers in theaters, in court it was revealed
that almost none of the city's theaters were so
equipped. It is easy a century later to find
fault with city officials but it is important to
remember that sprinklers and electric installation
were in their infancy in 1903. There were no
standards in materials or components so every system
in every structure was unlike any other.
An effort to standardize
sizes, materials and methods that could be followed
by plumbers, electricians, building contractors and
municipalities did not begin until 1897 and took a
decade to achieve wide acceptance.
In 1903 the lack of
standardization and monopolies made installation prohibitively
so said theater owners three weeks after the
Iroquois Theater fire. Automatic sprinklers made faster inroads in
factories than in public buildings because they were
required by insurance companies motivated to reduce
the size of claims on structures and inventory.
In public gathering places
such as theaters and churches, however, underwriters
had little motivation to exert similar pressure.
Owners and operators were commonly seen as blameless
in a time when the prevalent attitude was, "you
enter at your own risk." Weak
consumer protection laws and a legal presumption
favored contributory negligence
. Translation: "you panicked, therefore helping to
kill yourself, so don't blame us."