Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Entries : Chicago Title and Trust
Chicago Title and Trust

Chicago Title and Trust

Keith Brothers Advertisement, 1871
The Chicago Title and Trust Company was born of disaster and grew from unrivaled opportunity. The Great Fire of October 8, 1871, that destroyed a substantial portion of the city of Chicago might have also prevented its orderly and timely rebuilding had it not been for the “abstract men” who had prepared meticulous indices and abstracts of all land transactions in Cook County since 1847. Official property records prepared and stored in the courthouse were turned to dust in the flames. Fortunately for the city, three abstract firms, using a system of indexing and summarizing land trading pioneered by Edward A. Rucker, independently salvaged their records. With a minimum of legal challenge and political wrangling, clear title to property was maintained after the fire. The state of Illinois gave the abstracted land titles the status of law in all courts by passing the Burnt Records Act of 1872. Chase Brothers & Co., Jones & Sellars, and Shortall & Hoard consolidated their records and earned for their efforts a legal monopoly on all land dealings in Cook County. The Illinois General Trust Company Act of 1887 allowed the company (renamed Chicago Title and Trust in 1891) to act as executor, administrator, guardian, and trustee for corporations and individuals. With its archive of land tracts and roster of “blind trusts,” CT&T remained the only legal title company operating in Cook County until the 1960s, when the franchise was first opened to out-of-state companies. With their unique inside view of city land dealing, the officers of Chicago Title often found themselves at the critical boundary between politics and business. Under the leadership of men like Holman Pettibone, the company had a discreet and nearly invisible role in the planning and development of modern Chicago.

Miller, Ross. American Apocalypse: The Great Fire and the Myth of Chicago. 1990.
Miller, Ross. Here's the Deal: The Buying and Selling of a Great American City. 1996.