Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Building


The Fire that Sparked the New Deal and Forever Changed the American Labor Movement

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory greenwich village

About Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Building

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • Until 1911, this building was home to the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the site of a large fire that is New York City’s deadliest workplace tragedy before 9/11. 
  • The factory occupied the top three floors of the building and was notorious for being a dangerous place to work.  
    • The factory had wooden staircases and blocked exits. Owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris locked their workers in and fined them for talking, singing, and taking too many breaks.  
  • The blaze killed 146 people, most of them Jewish and Italian immigrant women and girls, who made up most of the workers in the city’s garment trade. 
  • The fire started when ash from a foreman’s cigarette lit a pile of rags and clippings on the 8thfloor. 
  • The fire could not be controlled because, at the time, FDNY ladders could only reach the 6thfloor, and hoses could only reach the 7th floor.  
  • Because of the locked doors, workers could not escape, and some chose to jump out of the factory’s windows.   
    • Seven women got so severely burned that they could not be identified. A public funeralwas held in their honor, and 35,000 New Yorkers turned out to pay their respects. 
  •  Blanck and Harris were charged with manslaughter but were acquitted in less than two hours. 
  • The fire became a bellwether in the American Labor Movement and galvanized people from all walks of life to fight for reform. 
    • Reformers created the Committee on Public Safety and the New York Factory Investigating Commission, which led to the passage of more than thirty workers’ safety laws. 

Carpe City Trivia

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory represents the work of thousands of female labor activists!

  • Two years before the fire, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory became the epicenter of the Uprising of 20,000, when 20,000 female garment workers walked off their jobs in two days. 
  • 100 Triangle employees got fired for joining the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the largest women’s union in the world at the time.  In response, the women of Triangle went on strike! The International Ladies Garment Workers Union called a general strike in support of that effort, and 20,000 women across New York’s garment industry joined the picket line! 

After the fire, it was women who agitated for factory reform.

  • Labor Activist, Rose Schneiderman, led the meeting that culminated in the creation of the Committee on Public Safety. 
  • The Committee was headed by Frances Perkins, who later became Secretary of Labor under FDR and the principal architect of the New Deal. 
  • Because the fire was such a significant turning point in American labor history, Perkins called the day of the fire, “the day the New Deal began.” 

By: Lucie Levine

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