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The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire occurred on 25 March 1911. It was the largest industrial disaster in the history of the city of New York, and was the worst workplace disaster in New York City until the attacks of 11 September 2001. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire caused the deaths of 148 garment workers, led to legislation improving factory safety standards, and spurred the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.


The Company


The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris. It occupied the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building in New York City; it was located at the intersection of Greene Street and Washington Place. The company manufactured women’s blouses, known, at that time, as "shirtwaists."


The Triangle Shirtwaist Company employed about 600 workers, mostly young immigrants from Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe. Women as young as twelve worked fourteen hour shifts and 60 to 72 hour weeks, for a maximum yearly income of $338.


The Fire


On 25 March 1911, at about 4:40 pm local time, a fire broke out on the eight floor. No one knows what caused the fire, but theories include a lit match or cigarette, faulty electrical wiring, or a spark thrown by the engines running the sewing machines in the building.


Most of the workers on the eight and tenth floors were alerted and were able to evacuate. However, workers on the ninth floor did not receive the warning in time.


The ninth floor had only two doors leading out. One stairwell was already on fire by the time workers on the ninth floor realized the danger they were in. The second door had been locked.


The only exterior fire escape collapsed under the weight of the people trying to escape. The elevator stopped functioning, partly because panicked workers tried to escape by jumping into the elevator shaft, onto the roof of the elevator.


62 fatalities occurred when workers broke the windows and jumped to the pavement nine stories below.

The fire department arrived promptly, but had no ladders that could reach beyond the sixth floor, so they were unable to fight the flames. The final death toll reached 148; 141 died at the scene and seven died later in the area’s hospitals.




The Triangle Shirtwaist Company’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, were tried and acquitted of criminal charges by a jury. However, they lost a civil suit in 1913, and were required to pay $75 per deceased victim. In 1913, Blanck was arrested for locking the door in his factory during working hours, and was fined $20.


As a result of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) became more involved in electoral politics. Local officials, such as Al Smith and Robert F. Wagner, and reformers such as Frances Perkins, began working for comprehensive safety and workers’ compensation laws. More than 100,000 people attended the victims’ funeral march.




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