100 YEARS AGO: The Triangle Factory Fire

traingle factory fire

Photo: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City that happened a 100 years ago on this date was the deadliest industrial disaster in the city and the fourth deadliest industrial-related accident in U.S. history. Some 146 people – mostly young immigrant women – lost their lives perishing in the fire or jumping from the 8th, 9th and 10th floors to their deaths.

Many of the workers could not escape through the exits as they had been locked by managers, which was one of numerous violations brought to light by the fire.

The disaster led to legislation that improved factory working standards and strengthen unions, which have helped change the conditions for sweatshop workers.

An Italian immigrant woman in New York carries a bundle of clothing which will be worked on at home by the entire family for piece rate pay.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

An Italian immigrant woman in New York carries a bundle of clothing which will be worked on at home by the entire family for piece rate pay.
Photographer: Lewis Hine, 1910

Garment workers were typically not allowed to talk or sing on the job. Supervisors docked pay for late arrival, talking, taking too long in the rest room or missing Sunday shifts.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Women sew by hand while men press finished garments. Garment workers were typically not allowed to talk or sing on the job. Supervisors docked pay for late arrival, talking, taking too long in the rest room or missing Sunday shifts.
Photographer: unknown, ca. 1900

Some unethical subcontractors took advantage of newly-arrived immigrants forcing them to work long hours for the right to keep their job. A standard 56-hour week might stretch to 70 hours without overtime pay.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Hand sewing is done by men and women facing a narrow bench, while men operate sewing machines at a long row of paired work stations. Some unethical subcontractors took advantage of newly-arrived immigrants forcing them to work long hours for the right to keep their job. A standard 56-hour week might stretch to 70 hours without overtime pay.
Photographer: Lewis Hine, ca. 1910

The mix of cheap, skilled- and unskilled- labour fuelled garment manufacturing growth. The industry doubled in size from 1900 to 1910, making it increasingly cost effective to bring many who had worked at home into larger garment factories.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Sewing machine operators, mostly women, work at long, paired tables overseen by managers. Work baskets fill the space between chairs and scraps clutter the floor around their feet. The mix of cheap, skilled- and unskilled- labour fuelled garment manufacturing growth. The industry doubled in size from 1900 to 1910, making it increasingly cost effective to bring many who had worked at home into larger garment factories.
Photographer: unknown, ca. 1900

Overhead lights, necessary in the centre of the room and in all areas during early morning and evening hours, were typically inadequate for the task and workers often suffered significant eyestrain.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Tables of men operating sewing machines are well lit by daylight entering unusually-large windows. Overhead lights, necessary in the centre of the room and in all areas during early morning and evening hours, were typically inadequate for the task and workers often suffered significant eyestrain.
Photographer: unknown, ca. 1900

Triangle Waist Company owners Isaac Harris (front row near centre with hands folded) and Max Blanck (in a dark suit to the right of Harris) with a group, probably workers at one of their factories.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Triangle Waist Company owners Isaac Harris (front row near centre with hands folded) and Max Blanck (in a dark suit to the right of Harris) with a group, probably workers at one of their factories.
Photographer: unknown, ca. 1910

Fire fighters from Ladder Company 20 arrived at the Triangle Waist Company minutes after the alarm was sounded and sprayed water at the burning Asch Building hoping that the dampening mist, too weak to put out the fire by the time it reached the top floors, would cool the panicked workers who had been forced to window ledges by extreme heat, smoke, flames and blocked exits. The factory was located in the Asch Building, at 29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Fire fighters from Ladder Company 20 arrived at the Triangle Waist Company minutes after the alarm was sounded and sprayed water at the burning Asch Building hoping that the dampening mist, too weak to put out the fire by the time it reached the top floors, would cool the panicked workers who had been forced to window ledges by extreme heat, smoke, flames and blocked exits.
Photographer: Brown Brothers, March 25, 1911

Fire fighters struggle to extinguish the burning Asch Building. Fire-quenching sprinkler systems, though proven effective, were considered too costly by many factory owners and were not installed in the Asch Building. Still the fire was quickly controlled and was essentially put out in little over half an hour.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Fire fighters struggle to extinguish the burning Asch Building. Fire-quenching sprinkler systems, though proven effective, were considered too costly by many factory owners and were not installed in the Asch Building. Still the fire was quickly controlled and was essentially put out in little over half an hour.
Photographer: unknown, March 25, 1911

In this fireproof factory, 146 young men, women, and children lost their lives, and many others were seriously injured.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Fire fighters arrived at the Asch Building soon after the alarm was sounded but ladders only reached the sixth floor and the high pressure pumps of the day could not raise the water pressure needed to extinguish the flames on the highest floors of the 10-story building. In this fireproof factory, 146 young men, women, and children lost their lives, and many others were seriously injured.
Photographer: unknown, March 25, 1911

At the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, onlookers saw fire fighters struggling to save workers and control the blaze.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

At the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, onlookers saw fire fighters struggling to save workers and control the blaze. The tallest fire truck ladders reached only to the sixth floor, 30 feet below most of those standing on window ledges waiting desperately for rescue. Men and women, escaping the fire in the only way they thought possible, jumped from the windows to their deaths while people in the street below pleaded with them to wait for help.
Photographer: unknown, March 25, 1911

A police officer and others with the broken bodies of Triangle fire victims at their feet, look up in shock at workers poised to jump from the upper floors of the burning Asch Building.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

A police officer and others with the broken bodies of Triangle fire victims at their feet, look up in shock at workers poised to jump from the upper floors of the burning Asch Building. The anguish and gruesome deaths of workers was witnessed firsthand by many people living or walking near the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place. Others read about it in the many newspaper reports circulated during the following days and weeks, bringing the conditions of garment worker into public scrutiny as it had been during the shirtwaist strike of 1909.
Photographer: Brown Brothers, March 25, 1911

Doctors examining each body on the sidewalk and street for signs of life located only a few survivors.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Doctors examining each body on the sidewalk and street for signs of life located only a few survivors. Officers gathered personal items for safe keeping and to help identify the victim, including money, pay envelopes, papers, and jewelry, then placed numbered tags on victims before taking them to the 26th Street pier temporary morgue.
Photographer: unknown, March 25, 1911

Unrecognizable bodies lay on the sidewalk along Greene Street, together with hoses, fire rescue nets, and part of a wagon.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Unrecognizable bodies lay on the sidewalk along Greene Street, together with hoses, fire rescue nets, and part of a wagon. All were drenched by the tons of water used to contain and extinguish the fire.
Photographer: Brown Brothers, March 25, 1911

After the Triangle factory fire was extinguished, broken bodies, hoses, buckets, and debris around the building testify to the extent of the struggle and the scale of the tragedy.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

After the Triangle factory fire was extinguished, broken bodies, hoses, buckets, and debris around the building testify to the extent of the struggle and the scale of the tragedy.
Photographer: unknown, March 25, 1911

Glass sidewalk vault lights were broken by the fall of Triangle fire victims who jumped to their deaths in order to escape the inferno.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Glass sidewalk vault lights were broken by the fall of Triangle fire victims who jumped to their deaths in order to escape the inferno. Water from fire hoses washed down on top of them observed by horrified witnesses.
Photographer: Brown Brothers, 1911

Fire fighters and police officers collected jewelry, handbags, money, pay envelopes and other personal objects from victims at the Asch Building and carried them to the 26th Street pier morgue where they were used to help identify the dead.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Fire fighters and police officers collected jewelry, handbags, money, pay envelopes and other personal objects from victims at the Asch Building and carried them to the 26th Street pier morgue where they were used to help identify the dead.
Photographer: unknown, March 25, 1911

Working under lights, a police officer holds a small casket amid the wrecked bodies of Triangle fire victims.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Working under lights, a police officer holds a small casket amid the wrecked bodies of Triangle fire victims. Nearby, others wait to help carry the dead to the covered 26th Street pier where a temporary police station and morgue had been set up after it was determined that the city morgue was not large enough to handle the fire's casualties.
Photographer: Brown Brothers, March 25, 1911

An officer stands at the Asch Building's 9th floor window after the Triangle fire. Sewing machines, drive shafts, and other wreckage of the Triangle factory fire are piled in the centre of the blaze-scoured room.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

An officer stands at the Asch Building's 9th floor window after the Triangle fire. Sewing machines, drive shafts, and other wreckage of the Triangle factory fire are piled in the centre of the blaze-scoured room.
Photographer: Brown Brothers, 1911

The 240 employees sewing shirtwaists on the ninth floor had their escape blocked by paired sewing machines on 75-foot long tables, back-to-back chairs and work baskets in the aisles.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

The 240 employees sewing shirtwaists on the ninth floor had their escape blocked by paired sewing machines on 75-foot long tables, back-to-back chairs and work baskets in the aisles. Walking space was so inadequate that many had to waste precious time climbing over tables to get to the stairs, fire escape, elevators and windows that might lead to safety.
Photographer: Brown Brothers, 1911

The tenth floor of the factory housed the offices of company executives, the switchboard, 40 garment pressers, inspectors and the packing and shipping room.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

The tenth floor of the factory housed the offices of company executives, the switchboard, 40 garment pressers, inspectors and the packing and shipping room. After receiving a warning call from a worker on the eighth floor, most were able to escape over the roof to the adjacent New York University building with the aid of faculty members and students. Of the 70 people on that floor, all were saved but two.
Photographer: unknown, 1911

Some of the Asch Building's collapsed fire escape ladders and balconies blocked by window shutters.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Some of the Asch Building's collapsed fire escape ladders and balconies blocked by window shutters.
Photographer: Brown Brothers, 1911

The day after the blaze, grief stricken crowds gathered at the site of the tragedy crying out the names of their loved ones, begging for information.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

The day after the blaze, grief stricken crowds gathered at the site of the tragedy crying out the names of their loved ones, begging for information, and struggling to come to terms with the reality of their worst fears.
Photographer: unknown, March 26, 1911

At the 26th Street pier morgue, family members and friends had the nightmarish duty of walking past numbered coffins and examining each of the victims' remains in an attempt to identify their loved ones.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

At the 26th Street pier morgue, family members and friends had the nightmarish duty of walking past numbered coffins and examining each of the victims' remains in an attempt to identify their loved ones.
Photographer: unknown, 1911

Net-draped white horses and a flower-laden carriage led a silent mourning procession on April 5, 1911 for the unidentified victims of the Triangle fire.

Source: Kheel centre/ILR School/Cornell University

Net-draped white horses and a flower-laden carriage led a silent mourning procession on April 5, 1911 for the unidentified victims of the Triangle fire. Brought together by leaflets in English, Yiddish and Italian calling for workers to join the final tribute to the fire's victims, a parade of 100,000 mourners walking to the site of the tragedy took 6 hours to pass the 300,000 who stood respectfully in unending rain.
Photographer: unknown, April 5, 1911

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.