This is one of the milestones
in the labor movement
. Too bad that it had to come at such a cost.
The Triangle shirt factory was located in a slightly poorer section of New York City during the 1910's. Many women worked there that couldn't get much better work. The pay was low and the days were long and the conditions excruciating. Each of the women was expected to not only work 10 hours plus without a break and without talking but the temperature in this sweat shop was upwards of 90 degrees constantly. Most of the women worked on the upper floors of the building which was a large warehouse. On March 25th at about 4pm the work day was just starting to wind down when one of the girls working on the upper floor started to complain, saying she smelled smoke. Work slowed down and then eventually stopped as silence and concern overtook first the 7th and then the 8th floors of the triangle shirtwaist building. What had happened was the excess material had been left to drift around on one of the floors; this was among the things the owners had been previously been cited for. The material, it was surmised later, had been ignited by a stray spark from faulty wiring or a dropped cigar that the owner had been fond of smoking. The event that caused the fire was of no concern to the hundred or so women that were panicking high above. They just wanted to escape it. Owners, however, kept the doors locked, to prevent the women from taking a break or stealing material. The flames began to rise.
Panic overtook a few of the women at first as they vaulted themselves onto the rain slickened cobblestone pavement. Fire fighters watched in horror as women grabbed each other's hands and leapt from above to perish with an audible thud. People on their way home from work stopped, seeing the commotion but just joined the macabre spectacle as the torrent of screaming bodies extinguished themselves upon impact. Most had jumped before the fire had reached them, and the street in front of the building was littered with the bodies and gore of over 70 people. In total that day 146 women died from that fire, a fire that could have easily been escaped if the owners of the building had left the metal doors unlocked for the women to escape. Inside, the firemen discovered, was a mass of bodies that had piled against the exit door. These women had died trying to break down the impossibly formidable steel door. Some women had been crushed to death against the door as the panic elevated behind them.
A few years later (1914) the public outcry had reached huge proportions as the Triangle shirtwaist fire became the rallying cry to get stricter laws passed to protect the workers of America. Alfred E. Smith and Robert Wagner were two lawmakers that went on to become senators because of their efforts to create the laws enacted because of this tragedy.