The Triangle Shirtwaist fire

One hundred years ago this month, a terrible disaster took place in New York City, the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village a couple of blocks east of Washington Square Park. As Wikipedia describes it:

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York and resulted in the fourth highest loss of life from an industrial accident in U.S. history. The fire caused the deaths of 146 garment workers, most of them women, who either died from the fire or jumped to their deaths. Most of the workers could not escape the burning building because the managers had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits. People jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The fire led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was located in the Asch Building, now known as the Brown Building of Science, a New York University facility. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.

The article is worth reading, but with a warning: it contains eyewitness accounts that are very vivid and disturbing, with the description of the young women leaping from the burning ninth floor of the building and falling to their deaths. While the fire was an accident, not an attack by enemies, it was nevertheless a kind of mini 9/11, in the sense that the event is very grim, very troubling, with nothing edifying about it, except the knowledge that the fire led to improvements in working conditions and the prevention of future such disasters.

This terrible event happened right in Greenwich Village, with crowds of horrified bystanders, including relatives of the victims, looking up at the windows of the burning factory, where the garment workers, almost all of them young girls and women, most of them Jewish immigrants, were trapped.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 04, 2011 11:45 AM | Send

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