Friday, March 25, 2011

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory: The Fire That Changed The Work Place

"It was the deadliest workplace accident in New York City’s history."  opening line of "Triangle Fire" on PBS' American Experience

Triangle Bldg burning






Today is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a catastrophe which killed 146 workers trapped in the upper stories of a Manhatten garment factory building.  This disaster led to major reform on multiple levels, including establishing maximum working hours, child labor laws and safety regulations. 

Workers at the Triangle Shirt Company
Most of the people who died were young immigrant women.  The average age was 21.  They'd come to America, seeking a better life. Instead, they found a terrible death. 

I first heard of the Triangle Fire in a Women's Studies class in college.  It was where I learned about scurrilous  working conditions in general and tragedies in specifics.  Over the years I've heard it referred to in passing but it seemed to fade away.  This year, however, brings a renewal of interest with the 100 year anniversary.  I watched the PBS show a few weeks ago. HBO has produced a new documentary as well.  It airs tonight, 11pm, on CNN thanks to cooperation between the media entities. 

As horrible as it was, the backlash against so many heretofore unchallenged workplace practices began to take effect.  The public demanded accountability and safety precautions and protection.  The NY Tiimes has a wonderful photographic slide show with accompanying historical information as well as the memorialization and celebration of the victims today and every year.  Ironically, the building stands.  It was fireproof.  NYU uses it for departmental studies and the Times pictorial has a photo of the devastated room below  as it looks today.

Burned out room on 9th floor
 
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15 comments:

Susan said...

Such a horrible tragedy. I missed the documentary. Hopefully I can watch it online.

mermaid gallery said...

how horrifying! Young immigrant women...average age 21! What a terrible end to young dreams.....

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

It's important to remember this. Thank you for posting.

Grandmother said...

Sad that it took such a loss of life to bring needed change to working conditions. The ages are shocking.

Deborah said...

I read a novel a few years ago that was based on this horrendous tragedy - can't remember the title of it. Life is better now for most in North America, but the neglect and injustices are still alive and well in other countries.

Nancy said...

Thanks for posting this, I did not know what the media was referring to when they called it the Shirtwaist Fire.

injaynesworld said...

Even after the mining disaster last year that took so many lives, the coal industry lobbyists through their Republican allies have managed to block any safety reform in that area.

Thanks for posting this piece. It's a big gap in my education. I'm glad to see all the media attention being paid to the fire. I had no idea the building was still there. The photo of that room is absolutely haunting. So sad.

California Girl said...

jayne: you just ruined my day with the news about mining reform.

Everyone: If you review the NY Times slide show link inserted in the post, slides 13 & 14 show the bldg today & the renovated room on the 9th flr from which the bulk of the victims tried to escape. Compare it to the photo in my post showing the room after the fire.

Dutchbaby said...

Thank you bringing this important information to light. What a tragedy.

Judy said...

I learned about this on PBS! Facinating story, thanks for posting the reminder of this for me.

lisleman said...

Learning from historical stories should be a constant activity for everyone. I watched some of the coverage but I can't say I checked out as much as you have. Great info in your post. You didn't mention unions and I think they played a big part in the reforms that followed this. I believe examples like this show that corporations need other groups to be watching and balancing their profit focused goals. Don't take me the wrong way, profits are great but corporations need to be responsible and not exploit people.

BODECI body said...

This is such a wonderfully tragic story. Thank you for bringing it to us. I particularly found the New York Times photos personalizing and so very sad. Excellent post.

BODECI body said...

Thank you for visiting my site, too! I just finished my post about the very thing you commented on, wine and all we cannot give up! Aare you kidding, I wouldn't have a clientele if I even suggested they give up their wine!!!

Ruth said...

How can we begin to count up the benefits in our lives that have come through tragedies like this? I do hope the same rights will be won for all people in the world.

Ruth said...

Oh, and thank you for telling me about the CSN whale song. It's tragic too.

Christina

Christina
by Cole Scott