What could a cow or a meteor possibly have to do with the 150-year success of Graybar? Well, legend has it that either a boisterous bovine or even a blast from beyond started the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In two days, thousands of buildings were destroyed, an estimated 300 lives were lost and $200 million in damage was done.

The Great Chicago Fire left nearly 100,000 people homeless. Graybar’s fire alarms helped to create a safer city for future generations.

Regardless of how it started, the blaze wiped out Western Union’s central division headquarters and most of its telegraph lines. Fortunately, the fire was stopped two blocks short of the offices of Gray & Barton (as Graybar was then called). In the months that followed, employees worked overtime to help rebuild Western Union’s Chicago infrastructure and manufacture fire alarms for other customers.

Gray & Barton people must have done an impressive job, because one year later, Western Union acquired a one-third interest in the company for $150,000 (about $3 million today) and made the newly renamed Western Electric Manufacturing Company its primary supplier of telegraph equipment.

Responding quickly to disasters has been a modus operandus for Graybar ever since.

Graybar employees follow the lead set by those who rebuilt Chicago when it responds to floods or tornadoes, by building houses, participating in fundraising activities, or simply donating much-needed funds or supplies. During the 2017 hurricane season, Irma, Harvey and Maria devastated parts of Texas, Louisiana, Florida and the entire island of Puerto Rico. Basic necessities were needed—quickly. Graybar branches around the country responded immediately.

Today, Graybar CARES (Community, Awareness, Responsibility, Education and Service) serves as a platform for employees, customers and suppliers to work together and give back to their communities in all sorts of ways. Dozens of charities have benefited from the dedicated efforts of Graybar people.

Graybar also takes care of its own. The independently run nonprofit Graybar Family Foundation provides confidential, immediate support to Graybar employees who have a sudden need for reasons beyond their control, such as a natural disaster or a medical emergency.

The legacy of Graybar is timeless values and enduring innovation. But just as importantly, Graybar is always ready to respond to people and communities in need.