Background Information on the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire The Triangle Shirtwaist Company employed 500 women (mostly East European immigrants) and was located on the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the Ashe building in New York City. At approximately 4:30 p.m. on March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the cutting room on the eighth floor. The cutting room was littered with extra pieces of cloth and the fire spread quickly. Most women on the eighth floor were able to escape to safety below, and most women on the tenth floor fled to the roof, where they survived the fire. The doors on the ninth floor, however, were locked to keep women from leaving their machines or from stealing cloth during the day. Historical records indicate that the ninth floor of the factory was overcrowded. The sewing machine tables were crammed so close together that there was little aisle space in which to move. Paper patterns and scraps of fabric were scattered everywhere and caught fire quickly.
The rear fire escape on the building collapsed and when the fire department arrived, their ladders would only reach to the sixth floor. To avoid burning to death, many women jumped from open windows. In less than fifteen minutes, 146 women were killed.
Less than two years earlier, workers in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory had gone on strike to demand unlocked doors and sufficient fire escapes at their workplace. The management of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory had responded by locking out its 500 strikers and by advertising for replacement workers. If the management had listened to the workers, the tragedy could have been avoided.
For more background on the fire and to see pictures of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, you can visit http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/index.html.
Hadley Davis, “Reform and the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire,” The Concord Review (Fall 1988): 5-17. Retrieved August 30, 2002 from http://www.tcr.org/triangle.html
Kenneth Jackson, ed. “Triangle Shirtwaist Fire” in The Encyclopedia of New York City (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995). Retrieved June 24, 2002 from http://www.yale.edu/yup/ENYC/triangle_shirtwaist.html
Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives, “Triangle Factory Fire.” Retrieved June 19, 2002 from http://ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/photos.