March 25, 2011 was the 100th anniversary date of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York City (and fourth largest in the United States.) There were 146 deaths. The immigrant garment workers died as a result of being trapped in the fire or by jumping to their deaths.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory occupied the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the 10-story Asch Building at 23-29 Washington Place, now known as the Brown Building, owned by New York University and used for their biology and chemistry departments (upper left photo). The building is designated as both a New York City landmark and a National Historic Landmark.
The factory employed approximately 500 workers, primarily women, in the manufacture of shirtwaists*. The workweek was 6 days, nine hours on weekdays and 7 hours on Saturday. At 4:40 Pm on Saturday March 25, 1911, a fired started in a scrap bin on the 8th floor. A bookkeeper contacted the 10th Floor where the owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were located. The worker who received the call on the 10th Floor never hung up the phone, preventing anyone from alerting the 9th Floor where 250 workers were present. The spread of fire was rapid - within 30 minutes, fire had swept through the floor and only a small number were able to escape via elevator. It is believed that exit doors were locked. Some burned while others jumped to their death while onlookers watched helpless below. Firetrucks had appeared on the scene in minutes, but ladders were only able to reach the 6th Floor.
The company owners, who had manage to survive by fleeing to the roof of the building were indicted on charges of manslaughter. They were acquitted but later lost a civil suit in 1913 with the plaintiffs winning $75 per deceased victim.
This landmark industrial disaster led to changes in national laws, particularly regarding improved factory safety standards and working conditions. There are many more details and stories regarding the fire, the victims, families, labor laws and immigration from that time period. See a New York Times article here with links to many other articles on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire ...
*From the New York Times:
Triangle was one of the nation’s largest makers of high-collar blouses that were part of the shirtwaist style, a sensible fusion of tailored shirt and skirt. Designed for utility, the style was embraced at the turn of the century by legions of young women who preferred its hiked hemline and unfettered curves to the confining, street-sweeping dresses that had hobbled their mothers and aunts.