|A mural by Ernest Fiene representing the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, at the High School of Fashion Industries NYC (courtesy Triangle Fire open archive).|
4:45pm eastern time today marks the 100th anniversary of the fire at the Triangle Waist Company in a building now called the Brown building at 29 Washington Place in Manhattan. The fire's been passed on and remembered as the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, so named for the shirtwaists they made there. Shirtwaist was the term people used 100 years ago for a blouse.
The fire broke out near the end of the workday on a Saturday. The factory occupied three floors of what was then called the Asche Building in Greenwich Village. It's thought that a careless cigarette or match started a conflagration that swept through the three floors of the factory in minutes.
146 people died in that fire and most of them were immigrant women between the ages of 15 and 24. They died from a lack of a fire code, a lack of regulation regarding working conditions and from the fact that the owners of the factory kept the doors locked to guard against internal theft.
Many of the people who died that day died because they jumped from the 8th, 9th and 10th floors to escape the flames.
The people who died that day died horrifically but they didn't die in vain. The International Ladies' Garment Workers Union and a host of building codes were born of that fire. If you work in an office, the sprinkler system in your building is there because those people died to get it for you.
That 15-year-old kids no longer work in factories in the west is the result of the labor movement and as of last week, a legislator in Missouri introduced legislation to eliminate many child labor laws. I don't need to tell you her party affiliation.
Revisionists seem to believe that "market forces" would have made all of the advances of the Labor Movement and the New Deal on their own but they fail to see that those same "market forces" brought about such things as child labor in the first place.
So as union busting becomes the new fad in state capitols all across the land, take a moment to remember those 146 souls who died behind locked doors in an unsafe building 100 years ago. Take a moment too, to learn about the Triangle Waist Company fire. It's an important part of US history and one that can never get enough attention.