Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (1900-1901)
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991
23-29 Washington Place
New York, New York
Now called the Brown Building and part of NYU, this neo-Renaissance structure was orgininally called the Asch Building. It was here that on March 25, 1911 a fire erupted on the floors occupied by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The fire killed 146 people and is considered one of the worst industrial accidents in American history. Most of the victims of the fire were Jewish and Italian immigrant women between the ages of 16 and 23. This tradgedy, however, sparked the creation of new and far-reaching factory safety legislation in the state of New York, served as an impetus to the political careers of Frances Perkins and Alfred E. Smith, and gave momentum to the unionization of garment workers.
The factory occupied the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the Asch Building. The fire broke out on the 8th floor, probably caused by a smoldering cigarette or matchstick dropped accidentally in a box of discarded cuttings. A passerby spotted the fire and alerted the fire department. Most of the workers on the eighth floor escaped by fleeing down the stairs. One worker telephoned to the 10th floor to spread the alert and the workers there mostly managed to escape to the roof. However, there was no phone call to the 9th floor and there was no fire alarm. One of the stairwells remained open free of flames for three minutes after the fire reached the 9th floor and some escaped this way. The other stairway was kept locked by the owners to prevent theft. Some workers managed to escape using the two elevators, but these soon ceased to function. Many jumped from windows to escape the flames and died on impact with the sidewalk. Others crowded onto a rickety firescape that collapsed with the weight of the escapees and the heat of the flames, sending everyone on it plummeting to their deaths. When the fire department responded, they raised a ladder to access the victims, but the ladder only reached to the 6th floor.
The 100th anniversary of the fire was commemorated on March 25, 2011 and the ceremony was attended by various national and local politicians and labor leaders, many of whom used the occasion to speak out against the recent movement to weaken labor unions.
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