Name Date The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

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The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was the deadliest workplace accident in New York City's history. On March 25th, 1911, a deadly fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York's Greenwich Village. The blaze ripped through the congested loft as petrified workers -- mostly young immigrant women -- desperately tried to make their way downstairs. By the time the fire burned itself out, 146 people were dead. All but 17 of the dead were women and nearly half were teenagers. The ensuing public outrage forced government action. Within three years, more than 36 new state laws had passed regulating fire safety and the quality of workplace conditions. The landmark legislation gave New Yorkers the most comprehensive workplace safety laws in the country and became a model for the nation.

Documentary Guided Questions:

  1. According to the film, what countries of origin were represented among New York City's 100,000 garment workers? What brought these immigrants to America, and what motivated them to work such long hours?

  2. What did Max Blanck and Isaac Harris have in common with the women who worked for them at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory? When and from where did Blanck and Harris arrive in America, and how had they transformed their lives and social status?

  3. What is a shirtwaist? Why was working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory a desirable job? Describe the factory environment. In what ways was it modern? What does historian Annelise Orleck mean when she asserts that "Triangle was a plum"?

  4. What was a typical day like for workers at the Triangle factory? In what ways was this workplace dangerous? How much money did the workers earn? For what reasons did bosses dock workers' pay?

  5. Why did Blanck and Harris believe that their empire "was under constant siege"? What forms of competition did Blanck and Harris face?

  6. Why did the Triangle owners keep the factory's Washington Place exit locked? What does historian Steve Fraser mean when he says that the bosses treated workers "like animals, like pieces"?

  7. What changes were shirtwaist workers agitating for when they made the decision to go out on strike? Why did factory owners like Harris and Blanck see unionization as a threat and as a personal attack?

  8. Who was Clara Lemlich and what arguments did she make in favor of a general strike? What was the impact of the general strike by shirtwaist workers? 

  9. Who was Anne Morgan and what was her view of the garment workers' strike? Why was Morgan's support and that of the so-called mink brigade "amazing, shocking, and exciting," in the words of historian David von Drehle?

  10. What caused the fire that broke out at the Triangle factory on March 25, 1911? Who was alerted? Who was not alerted? Who escaped? Who did not escape? What did workers discover when they ran to the Washington Place stairway? Why was this door locked?

  11. How many people died in the Triangle fire? Why were factory owners Harris and Blanck brought up on charges of manslaughter? What was the outcome of this case? In your view, was justice served?

  12. What impact did the Triangle fire have on the private system of unregulated industry? What concrete changes did the government institute to make workplaces safer for factory workers? Which of these laws are still in effect at workplaces today?

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