The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire happened on March 25, 1911, at a New York City garment factory. It took the lives of 146 workers who could not leave the building on time. They did not have enough time to use an elevator and escape because the door was locked. The firefighters could not help either. There could have been even more victims since approximately five hundred people were working that day.
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The factory was operating on the three upper floors of a 10-story building, but the ladders used by firefighters could reach only up to the sixth floor. The fire was not just a tragedy for the families of the victims. It produced a large and militant social and political response as well. It was the beginning of a change in the safety and social policies for the working class.
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
The tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is even more shocking since it could have been prevented. Most of the workers died due to the neglect of elementary safety rules by the factory owners. The company was located on three upper floors of the building and had only one fire escape, which was not sufficient enough to let everyone leave the building in case of an emergency. The other escape exits were closed to keep the workers from stealing goods from the factory or leaving the workplace during the shift.
The tragedy came as a shock to the city. People realized that it could have been avoided if the safety regulations were followed. It was a kind of common guilt and responsibility. A similar tragedy could follow unless something was done to improve labor conditions. As a result, within the years following the disastrous fire, over 36 laws regulating work safety, wages, and child labor were issued in the state of New York. The victims of the fire opened the way to safety and health legislation, which protects contemporary workers.
The majority of the factory employees who did not survive the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire were young women. Moreover, there were many teenagers and people not older than thirty. Most of them were recent Jewish and Italian immigrants who came to the United States in search of work and better fortune. Many of them had families and children to support. Thus, the fire was even more tragic since many women who could give birth to children dying. It was probably one of the factors that caused a critical response of society to the tragedy.
Although legislation has developed norms and rules to protect employees, similar tragedies are still possible. Of course, they are not likely to happen in a company in a developed country. However, the Third World countries, that do not have social and safety policies, may become a place for a disaster. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine that a similar situation can have a comparable outbreak today. If it happens in a country such as the US, it can lead to a serious backlash.
It might not be as active as in 1911 when more than 500,000 people joined in a silent march to mourn the victims of the fire, but it can have a wider spread because of social media. If it happens in an undeveloped country, there will probably be no loud protests since the civic leadership it is not so developed.