Today is the 98th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in which 146 young women, many of them teenagers, died in a fire on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building, then a modern factory-loft building thought to be fireproof.
March 25th, 1911 was a typical day at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. located in lower Manhattan. A couple of hundred women, mostly immigrant teenagers, were hard at work as cutters, at sewing machines and as pressers. They were hardworking women who were paid by the piece.
These women felt safe. They were in America, the greatest nation on earth. They had jobs, and while they had to work very hard, they were earning their keep and, some of them, supporting parents and grandparents. They were working in a modern building, built to the highest standards of the day and reported to be fireproof.
Then the fire broke out.
There was really nothing to worry about. The building had fire exits that led to stairwells that led to the street. Everyone could get out safely. That was the plan when the building was erected. Safety first.
There was only one problem. The bosses at the factory made a small alteration. In order to prevent the women from taking breaks or going out to smoke or chat the bosses had done what bosses all over the City did.
They chained the fire exit doors shut. All of them.
Panic. Women were killed as they were pressed against the steel doors by dozens of women trying desperately to escape.
Women were killed by inhaling the smoke generated by a fire attacking a hundred or more bolts of fabric ready to be cut.
Women were killed when they jumped out the windows of the ninth and tenth floors, figuring that gave them a better chance of survival than anything else.
Some did survive. They were lucky enough to not hit the cement sidewalk because they landed on the bodies already there and were not killed by the other bodies landing on them.
One hundred forty-six lives lost because the bosses were greedy and chained the fire doors closed.
There are still greedy bosses. That’s why I’m a union man.
Look at the pictures before you start to argue with me:
fire and its aftermath