The Triangle Fire of 1911
Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, in New York City a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. One of the worst tragedies in American history it is known as the "Triangle Shirtwaist Fire". It was a disaster that took the lives of 146 workers, most of which were women. This tragedy pointed out the negatives of sweatshop conditions of the industrialization era. It emphasized the worst part of its times the low wages, long hours, and unsanitary working conditions were what symbolized what sweatshops were all about. These conditions were appalling, and no person should ever be made to work in these conditions.
Sweatshops were originally set up to produce a large quantity of mostly clothing items, with cheap labor wages for its workers. Sweatshops more often than not were cramped buildings with few windows or fans. The people who worked in these sweat shops rarely received breaks, and would on average 10-12 hours a day, seven days a week. The places were so unsanitary many did not have proper plumbing facilities to accommodate all those who worked there, and no way of cleaning or bandaging a cut or wound if injured on the job. Although these were the common standards of sweatshops the Asch Building, where the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was located was a very large building, with nine floors. This building was large but cramped due to all the workers, material and machines. Every inch of viable space was used to put either a machine, material or another worker.
Sadie Frowne, a swear shop worker from New York City stated "The machines go like mad all day because the faster you work the more money you get. Sometimes in my haste I get my finger caught and the needle goes right through it. It goes so quick, though, that it does not hurt much. I bind the finger up with a piece of cotton and go on working". This was the mind set of most of the workers in the sweatshops. They hated their job and long hours but as long as they worked the money, as little as it may be, still came in.
Most sweat shops were employers of immigrant's, men children, and women. Women were especially employed at the Triangle shirtwaist factory, because it was easy to persuade women to come in and work. The ratio of men to women in the factory was largely outnumbered by women 6:1. This was the beginning of the industrial age and a new age of women working for themselves. Women having jobs in this era gave them a sense of independence and freedom to get out of the house to perform labor in exchange for money.
The owners of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory wereMax Blanck and Isaac Harris. These men were wealthy business men who did very little work and made a fortune off the backs of hard working women, and immigrants. These men were held in high regard for there riches among there rich friends in the community. Although among the less off people of New York, Mr. Blanck and Mr. Harris, along with other sweatshop owners, were thought as money hungry, filthy rich men who had no mercy, let alone personality towards the people whom worked for them.
According to New York Fire Marshal William L. Beers the fire was started in this fashion, "The result of my investigation and the taking of testimony for ten days after the fire was that I was of the opinion that the fire occurred on the eighth floor on the Greene street side, under a cutting table, which table was enclosed and that contained the waste material as cut from this lawn that was used to make up the waists. They were in the habit of cutting about 160 to 180 thicknesses of lawn at one time; that formed quite a lot of waste, which was placed under the cutting tables, as it had a commercial value of about seven cents a pound". "Well, we formed the opinion that it started from the careless use of a match from one of the cutters. They were about to leave to go home, and in those...
Bibliography: Famous Trials. The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Trial 1911. (website).
The Triangle Factory Fire By: Cornell University ILR School (website).
U.S. Fire Administration/National Fire Data Center. Nightclub Fires in 2000. (PDF File).
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