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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Quick Overview of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

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Triangle Shirtwaist Factory after the March, 1911, fire.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory after the March, 1911, fire.

Courtesy Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library

On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, located on the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building in Manhattan. Fueled by combustible garments, cloth, and dust, the fire quickly spread.

Most of the more than 500 workers there that day were immigrant women, some as young as 12 years old, mostly from Russia, Italy, Germany, or Hungary. Of those there when the fire started, some escaped down elevators, which then stopped working; some escaped to the roof of the next building; some escaped down stairs which then became engulfed in flames. Those who didn't escape the building sought to escape the fire by moving towards the doors and windows or hiding in small rooms within the factory. More than 60 chose to jump from the windows rather than die in the fire and smoke. Some 24 died falling from a fire escape that collapsed under the weight of the escaping workers.

The fire started about 4:30 p.m. and firefighters had the fire mostly under control by 5:15. In all, 146 people died as a result of the fire -- immediately or soon after as a result of their injuries. Thousands watched from the park and surrounding streets and buildings.

Significance of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was the most deadly industrial safety incident in New York City, and resulted in public outcry to establish safety and labor reforms.

Among the results of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the public horror at the disaster:

  • municipal, state, and federal association reforms to ensure better working conditions and worker safety
  • stronger unions in the garment industry, to bargain on safety and working conditions and to lobby for legislative reforms
  • founding of the American Society of Safety Engineers in New York City
  • the New York political machine, Tammany Hall, though with a reputation for corruption, embraced labor reforms
  • several individuals came to public attention, including Rose Schneiderman, Clara Lemlich, and Francis Perkins (later the first woman appointed to a cabinet position)

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