The triangle shirtwaist factory tragic fire occurred in Manhattan, New York on March 25, 1911. Since then it was the deadliest industrial fire accident in the United States history. It resulted in 156 worker’s death, mainly from smoke inhalation, jumping from the rooftops, and or falling from the elevator. The fire accident is remembered in history because many viewed it as tragedy instigated by negligence and unresponsiveness of the company owners. The records have it that the oldest worker in the factory way forty-three years of age.
Jewish And Italian Immigrants
The factory tragedy brought to the attention of immigrants who were working in the plant. Such attention was because the shirtwaist factory employed young women immigrants who worked in a cramped space at lines with of sewing machines. Nearly all the immigrants were teenage girls working twelve hours a day with no conversance of English language, hence no means of complaints. Most of those immigrants consisted of Italian and Jewish immigrant’s women who had just arrived in the United States aged between sixteen to twenty-three for those whose ages were known.
Italians immigration into the U.s can be traced back to 1880 to 1920, a period which estimated four million immigrants entered the U.S. after settling in the America, those immigrants were faced with many challenges regarding their inability to communicate in English and no education. Many resorted into low-wage manual labor jobs and were prone to various exploitation by the middlemen in the presence of acting as the intermediaries between them and their prospective employers. Such cases are what they exhibited in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
Since the factory owners Isaac Harris and Max blank were Jewish, they employed almost a thousand Jewish workers over the busy season. During the time of the accident, there were over five hundred Jews in the factory who like the Italians were the recent arrival in the United States. Of the 145 workers who died in the fire, around 102 were Jews mainly women.
Laws and Regulations
After the factory tragedy, there was widespread of outcry regarding the dangerous sweatshop conditions of factories which started the series of legislation and regulations that would better protect the safety of workers in the United States. In October that year 1911, the new Yorke democratic set took up the cause of the workers and then called the reform party after merging with Sullivan-Hoey fire prevention law passed that year. Both become very instrumental in preventing the occurrence of such fires in future. The American society of safety engineers was also founded the same year in October.
The tragedy also led to the legislation requiring all factories to improve factory safety regarding fire break standards, and it also helped initiate the emergence of the international ladies’ garment workers Union (ILGWU) that was tasked with fighting for favorable working conditions for sweatshop workers. The fire led to the amendments of the compensation laws in 1913 to allow the survivors and the victims got compensated, fire and building codes also improved, improved firefighting acts. By the year 1912, the New York state assembly enacted legislation that ordered the installation of fire sprinklers systems in buildings having over seven stories high and containing over two hundred people employed above that seventh floor.
It is so sad that over one hundred years since the tragedy at the Triangle factory occurred, the centenary of the tragedy is poignant. Currently, only a mere seven percent of the American workers in private companies belong to any union, and the few available in public are under siege. In that case, the worst conditions of the Triangle factory may no longer exist in the United States. More painfully, the lowest-skilled workers many of whom are still unregistered immigrants still continue to be exploited, with less payment in many shabby sweatshops and factories.
LUMSDEN, LINDA. “The New York Call.” Journalism History 39, no. 4 (2014).
Sergel, Ruth. See You in the Streets: Art, Action, and Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. University of Iowa Press, 2016.
Tokarczyk, Michelle M. “Toward Imagined Solidarity in the Working-Class Epic: Chris Llewellyn’s Fragments from the Fire and Diane Gilliam Fisher’s Kettle Bottom.” Women’s Studies 43, no. 7 (2014): 865-891.