Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

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The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was an industrial accident that occurred on March 25, 1911. It is the second deadliest disaster in New York City history; only the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11 resulted in a greater loss of life. The factory, owned by the Triangle Waist Company, occupied the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the ten-story Asch building. When the fire broke out in the late afternoon, many workers were unable to escape the building because at least one exit door had allegedly been locked by factory managers and other means of evacuation were unable to handle the large number of people. Some workers jumped to their death out windows or down elevator shafts. Overall, 146 workers, mostly young women, perished in the disaster.

Triangle Waist Company workers, encouraged by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, called a strike a year and half earlier in 1909. Workers at the shirtwaist factory won a small wage increase, but no improvement in factory safety conditions.[1]

Aftermath

Factory owners were charged with manslaughter for allegedly endangering workers and hindering escape in the event of the disaster, but they were acquitted because the jury could not determine if the owners knew that the door was locked.[1][2] Investigations by the city and the state eventually led to new regulations or recommendations for workers' wages, work hours, child labor, and safety. But legislators may have overreacted, as 36 new laws made New York the city and state with the strictest labor rules and public safety codes in the country. Many other states adopted labor reform as well. The disaster also gave inspiration to FDR's labor secretary, Francis Perkins, for many New Deal labor reforms.[3] In addition, the disaster led to increased unionization of Triangle Waist Company workers. The most predominant negative impact of this disaster is that the cost of doing business in the manufacturing industries increased significantly.

The site of the fire, 23-29 Washington Pl., which is now New York University's Brown Building, is a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.[1][4]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Brown Building (originally Asch Building)." New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/brown.pdf
  2. "Complete Transcript of Triangle Fire." November 1, 1911. http://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1017&context=triangletrans
  3. "Triangle Shirtwaist: The Birth of the New Deal." The Economist, March 17, 2011. http://www.economist.com/node/18396085?story_id=18396085
  4. "Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Building." National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/pwwmh/ny30.htm
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