Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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The Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire that took place in New York City on March 25, 1911, remains a landmark event in the history of U.S. industrial disasters. The fire that claimed the lives of 146 people, most of them immigrant women and girls, caused an outcry against unsafe working conditions in factories and sweatshops located in New York and in other industrial centers throughout the United States and became the genesis for numerous workplace safety regulations on both the state and federal level.

The ten-storey Asch building, owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, was located at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street in New York City. The top three floors of the building housed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The Triangle Company, like its competitors, used subcontractors for the manufacture of women's clothing. Under this system, workers dealt directly with subcontractors who paid them extremely low wages and required them to work long hours in unsafe conditions. The Triangle Company was the largest manufacturer of shirt-waists in the city, employing approximately 700 people. While the subcontractors, foremen, and a few others were male, the great majority of the workers were female. Most of the Triangle workers, who ranged in age from 15 to 23, were Italian or European Jewish immigrants. Many of them spoke little English. Their average pay was $6 per week, and many worked six days a week in order to earn a little more money.

Like many of their fellow immigrants in other factories throughout the city, the Triangle Shirtwaist workers labored from 7 in the morning until 8 at night with one half-hour break for lunch. They spent their time hunched over heavy, dangerous sewing machines that were operated by foot pedals. The rooms in which they worked were dirty, dim, and poorly ventilated. The finished shirtwaists hung on lines above the workers' heads and bundles of material, trimmings, and scraps of fabric were piled high in the cramped aisles between the machines. Most of the doors were locked on the theory that locked doors prevented the workers from stealing material.

In November 1909, these conditions led the local LABOR UNION to call for a strike against the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Over the next few weeks, the strike spread to the city's other shirtwaist

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manufacturers. Although local newspapers referred to the general strike as the "uprising of the ten thousand,"...

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