The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was one of the worst workplace disasters in American history. The disaster exposed the horrible working conditions of many immigrants and helped spur union organization and occupational safety laws.
Located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a typical turn-of-the-century sweatshop. Many of the employees were young female immigrants, primarily Russian Jews, Italians, Hungarians, and Germans. They worked long hours in dangerous working conditions for low wages. Shortly before the 4:45
The fire rapidly spread throughout the building, and most of the workers on the eighth and tenth floors were able to escape; many on the tenth floor made it safely to the roof, where they made their way to an ajoining building. Employees on the ninth floor, however, discovered that one of the two exits had been locked–a routine precaution management felt was necessary to keep employees from stealing from the company. The single fire escape quickly buckled and collapsed under the weight of the workers. One of the two elevators in the building was not operating, and the other elevator shaft was later found clogged with the bodies of thirty girls who had unsuccessfully tried to escape. Some workers waited for rescue workers, but the ladders and water hoses that were brought were too short to reach the upper floors. In desperation, some workers leapt from the ninth floor to their deaths. By time the fire was extinguished, about half an hour after it had started, an estimated 146 of the nearly 600 employees had died. Many had burned to death.
Following the tragedy, there was public outcry for reform of fire safety laws and working conditions. The fire led to increased support for labor unions, including the
The owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company were
De Angelis, Gina. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire of 1911. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001. Sherrow, Victoria. The Triangle Factory Fire. Brookfield, Conn.: Millbrook Press, 1995. Von Drehle, David. Triangle: The Fire That Changed America. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.
International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union
New York City