Monday, Sep. 05, 2011

A Fire Ignited the Labor Movement

The infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 took the lives of 136 people in just 18 minutes. Most of those who perished were European immigrants who had found work at the New York City sweatshop manufacturing shirtwaists, or blouses. Factory bosses had made it a practice to close and lock doors to prevent theft, so when flames broke out, many people simply died inside. Others trying to escape the conflagration flooded the building's only fire escape, causing it to collapse. Those still trapped inside jumped from windows. Though the factory owners were indicted on charges of manslaughter, they were later acquitted and actually profited from insurance claims. The tragic blaze — likely caused by a cigarette — did, however, raise awareness of poor working conditions at the factory and other warehouses like it, prompting the start of the labor movement and a call for safer work environments.