About Quizzes

Triangle Fire

On Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building, which were occupied by the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Of the 500 workers, 146 died as a result of the conflagration, many leaping to their death from eighth floor windows as helpless bystanders watched. Most of the workers were female, often young and recent immigrants. The Triangle Factory was non-union shop, and the workers would not have felt able to speak out about working conditions. The fire escape on the ninth floor led to nowhere. Fire trucks arrived but their ladders proved to be several stories too short and there was not enough water pressure to reach the upper floors. Many of the exits had been locked by the company management in order to prevent theft. Several union and progressive organizations created the Joint Relief Committee, which worked with the American Red Cross to provide support for the surviving victims and those who lost family members. It is estimated that the Joint Relief Committee alone distributed around $30,000. Twenty-three lawsuits were brought against the owners of the Asch Building. Three years later, they settled and paid $75 for each death. Max Blanck, one of the owners, paid a fine of $25 for having locked the door during working hours. Local 25 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union organized a rally against the unsafe working conditions and the Women's Trade Union League led a campaign to investigate such conditions. Within a month of the fire, New York governor John Alden Dix appointed the Factory Investigating Commission. For five years, this commission conducted a series of statewide hearings that resulted in the passage of important factory safety legislation. Frances Perkins, later Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, watched the Asch Building burn, an experience that influenced her to become a lifelong advocate for workers. Perkins took part in the factory investigation as executive secretary of the New York Committee on Safety.