The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire occurred in New York City on 25 March 1911, at about 4:40 pm local time. The fire killed 146 garment workers, mostly young immigrant women from Germany, Italy, and Eastern Europe. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was located on the top three floors of the Asch Building; at least 62 of the factory fire’s fatalities occurred when women jumped from the windows of the ninth floor of the Asch Building to escape the flames.
No one knows for sure what sparked the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Possible causes include a lit match or cigarette, faulty electrical wiring, or a spark thrown by one of the engines running the factory’s sewing machines. It is known that flammable textiles were stored throughout the factory, scraps of fabric were strewn about the floors, and patterns on sheets of tissue hung above the tables. Many of the workers smoked inside the factory; gas lighting provided the illumination, and there were only a few buckets of water available to extinguish fires.
In the aftermath of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the company’s owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, were tried and acquitted of criminal charges. In 1913, they lost a civil suit and were required to pay compensation in the amount of $75 per deceased victim.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire led to the reform of factory safety and workers’ compensation laws. The fire stimulated the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. On 14 October 1911, the American Society of Safety Engineers was founded in New York City as a direct result of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.