AP US History
December 13, 2012
Leap for Life, Leap of Death
People die everyday, it’s a fact of life. Cancer, old age, heart attacks, car accidents, are all causes of death. I bet when you imagine how you’re going to die, the thought of jumping out a window that’s nine stories high doesn’t come to mind, but certainly it is another cause of death, another tragic way to die. This exact way of dying took 145 souls on March 25, 1911. One after another girls aging anywhere between 13 and 23 years of age thought they were leaping for their lives from the out break of fire, but instead leapt for death, out of the windows to meet the concrete over one hundred feet below. In honor of those who leapt for their life, changes were made in occupational safety standards that ensure the safety of workers today. When it comes to death, anything is possible.
Located on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in Manhattan, was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Max Blanck and Isaac Harris owned one of the largest shirt making factories in New York City. Both men had immigrated from Russia as young men, met in the United States, and by 1900 had a little shop together on Woodster Street they named the Triangle Waist Company. It specialized in making shirtwaist, which was a popular blouse worn by women that had a tight waist and puffy sleeve. Those who worked within the factory consisted of a majority of women who worked on the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors. The women who worked there were mainly immigrants aging from13 to 23. Irish, Yiddish, and German were a few of the ethnicities of the women who worked there. The working conditions they had to endeavor were unbearable. It was a true sweatshop. The women worked in a cramped space at lines of sewing machines. Working for as little as $6 a week, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, the factory workers were being mistreated with the conditions of which they worked in. Back in 1911, there were four elevators with access to the factory floors, but only one was fully operational and the workers had to file down a long, narrow hallway in order to reach it. There were two stairways down to the street, but one was locked from the outside to prevent stealing and the other only opened inwards. The fire escape was so narrow that it would have taken hours for all the workers to use it, even in the best of circumstances. It was because of these reasons that the factory workers held a strike in 1909 to increase their pay, shorten their work week, and recognition of the Union. If they had to work in conditions such as these, then their pay should give them benefit of the doubt. Other companies agreed to the strikers’ demands, but the Shirtwaist Company owners never did. The exploitation of workers had made the owners, Blanck and Harris, rich and money was easily obtainable to them. For the workers, the conditions at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company remained poor.
At approximately 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon, the workday was called to an end, for some at least. Women were gathering their belongings, receiving their paychecks for the week, and others continued to work to get a few extra dollars for their family. Suddenly, a woman on the eighth floor noticed smoke arising from around. There were 600 workers still in the building when the fire bell rang. The manager attempted to put the fire out using pails of water, but was unsuccessful. She then tried to use the fire hose, and was faced with another unsuccessful task; for coincidently, the hose was rotted and its valve was rusted shut. As the fire quickly grew, so did the panic within the building, the cries for help, and the next two floors were soon greeted by the heat of the flames. Women from the eighth floor tried to contact the ninth and tenth to let them know of the outbreak fire, but it was too late. The fire was sporadic, and...