Friday, March 25, 2011

Duly Noted: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

(Image from Wikimedia Commons)
Some six months ago, a post in this department noted the fiftieth anniversary of a relatively unknown tragedy in Park Slope. Today's post marks the 100th anniversary of another tragedy, but one you've likely heard of: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire -- often held up as a catalyst for workplace safety laws, and as a prime example of why measures such as fire drills are necessary.

The fire killed 146 workers -- most of then young women -- at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which occupied the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street, just off Washington Square. It started in a wastebasket on the eighth floor, and spread quickly, growing so quickly that it was out of control before anyone had much chance to control it in the first place.

Remains of the fire
escape (NY Times)
One worker on the eighth floor placed a call to the tenth floor, but no call alerted those on the ninth floor. One of the NY Times articles says this is because the worker who received the call on the tenth floor did not hang up the phone, but I think in von Drehle's book it said that the ninth floor did not have a phone. Either way, most of those on the eighth and tenth floors escaped, while many of the 250 workers on the ninth were not so fortunate. Some made their way down the fire escape before it collapsed -- and indeed, in photos of its twisted remains, the fire escape looks rickety and hardly of much use in evacuating a crowded workplace in a fire. Many of those who escaped by means other than the stairs did so by way of the freight elevators; Joseph Zito and Gaspar Mortillalo, who ran the elevators, risked their own lives to save as many as they could, until the elevators failed.

Further reading
David von Drehle, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America
Leon Stein, The Triangle Fire

Article on Wikipedia
Blog posts from The Bowery Boys:
-  "Some Basic Information" (Feb. 28)
-  "Where they lived" (Mar. 24)
Posts from the New York Times City Room blog:
-  "A Half-Hour of Horror" (Mar. 21)
-  "The Building Survives" (Mar. 22)
-  "A Frontier in Photojournalism" (Mar. 23)
-  "Liberating Clothing Made in Confinement" (Mar. 22)
Blog post from the New-York Historical Society
Blog post from Ephemeral New York, on Zito and Mortillalo
Information from Women's History

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