The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
25 March 2011

March 25, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, where 146 workers died from the fire or jumped to their deaths…

Isaac Harris (center, hands folded) and Max Blanck (right) owned the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and are shown here in a photo with workers in 1910- one year before the fire. They would later be forced to pay about $75 per victim after they lost a civil suit in 1913.

Arson was not suspected. The cause of the fire was thought to be from a match, cigarette or the overheating of the sewing machines.

Fifty women jumped from the building’s south side. Elevator operators Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo tried to save workers’ lives by making three runs up to the ninth floor. However, they were forced to give up when the heat from the fire caused the shaft’s metal parts to buckle.

Police examine the bodies of workers for signs of life and search for personal effects to identify the victims.

David Von Drehle wrote in his 2003 book, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, “most victims died of burns, asphyxiation, blunt impact injuries, or a combination of the three. The first person to jump was a man, and another man was seen kissing a young woman at the window before they both jumped to their deaths.”

Family members and friends identify the bodies of the victims. A survivor later recounted that flames prevented workers from descending the stairway, and the door to another stairway was locked to prevent theft. PBS would later report that the foreman who held the stairway door key had already escaped by another route. 146 people died as a result of the fire; 129 women and 17 men. The New York Times reported six victims remained unidentified until February, 2011.

Read the complete photo essay at

This PDF file from the city of New York gives a full history of the Asch Building in which the fire took place and the union history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

MyFox New York has a video report recalling the history of the fire and about today’s union rally at the site.

…The Triangle fire killed 146 people and helped to galvanize the U.S. labor movement. The victims were mostly young immigrant women, many of whom jumped to their death to escape the flames. The tragedy prompted many improvements in fire safety across the country, such as sprinkler installation and laws mandating fire drills.

Days after the fire, 100,000 mourners marched in a funeral procession through the streets of New York, while another 250,000 lined the route. Their grief built support for the right of garment workers to unionize.

Many of the victims’ family members and descendants attended the ceremony Friday. Pete Doob, a laboratory worker from Columbia, Md., came to honor his great aunt, 21-year-old Violet Schechter, who died in the fire just a week before she was to be married.

“There were no regulations back then and there was no union to enforce them. With neither of those, the workers didn’t have a chance,” Doob said…

…U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who spoke at the ceremony, offered her support for unions pushing back.

“Today we honor workers in communities all across this great country protesting loudly the actions to strip them of collective bargaining — of their right to have a voice in the workplace. We applaud you,” Solis said.

Schumer went further, saying Walker and others “want to drag our nation back to 1911.”

“Today some on the far right want to rob workers of their hard-earned collecting bargaining rights. They want to fray the social safety net under the false pretense of fiscal austerity,” he said.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was booed during his remarks. His plan to curb pensions and lay off thousands of teachers has rankled unions…

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