Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Definition - What does Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire mean?

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is an industrial disaster that occurred on March 25, 1911, in New York City. It caused the deaths of 146 garment workers—123 women and 23 men—standing as one of the deadliest industrial accidents in the history of the United States.

Public reaction to the fire and the deaths resulting from the factory’s locked exists lead to the creation of legislation that required improved safety standards for factory workers.

Safeopedia explains Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a sweatshop that employed primarily teenage girls who worked 12-hour days without regular days off. The potential danger of fires in factories such as the Triangle were well-known at this point; however, corruption within the garment industry and the New York City government prevented action from being taken to improve safety standards.

When the Triangle fire began in a rag bin on the eighth floor of the Greenwich Village building, the floor manager attempted to extinguish it with a fire hose, only to find that the hose had rotted and its valve had rusted shut. Workers on the upper floors managed to escape; however, locked exits prevented those on the eighth floor from leaving. Within the 18-minute period that the fire lasted, 49 workers had burned to death or suffocated, 36 died jumping down an elevator shaft, and 58 died jumping from the building. Two more died from their injuries shortly thereafter.

The severity of the disaster was in large part affected by the fact that the factory owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits to the factory, which at the time was a common practice to prevent workers from taking improper breaks or stealing from the factory.

The immediate reaction to the fire included a union protest march attended by 80,000 people, which in turn was part of a group of events that catalyzed a series of labor reforms in New York. These included emergency exit standards such as an outward-swinging exit and the mandatory use of sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings. Between 1911 and 1913, 60 new labor laws were passed by the state of New York. These laws would prove to be nationally influential and would form the basis for labor reforms in other parts of the U.S.

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire was also influential in the development of organized safety professions. The American Society of Safety Engineers, the oldest safety organization in the U.S., was created six months after as a direct response to the fire.

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