Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: On This Day, March 25

Joseph Rumshinsky, On the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City caught fire, killing 146 of the 500 employees—mostly young immigrant women and girls. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory produced women’s blouses—called shirtwaists at the time. Employees worked nearly twelve hour days, seven days a week for very low wages.

Around closing time on the day of the fire, a scrap bin went up in flames. The factory exits had been locked to prevent theft, and the shoddily built fire escape buckled under the heat from the fire and the weight of victims trying to escape. Many of the victims died trapped on the top floors of the building, unable to escape.

After the fire, outraged activists lobbied New York State to investigate. The resulting Factory Investigating Commission looked in to unsafe working conditions. Between 1912 and 1914, the commission submitted 17 bills, 13 of which became law. These bills enacted strict workplace safety and health codes, including measures requiring fire safety efforts, adequate ventilation, improved sanitation, safe operation of elevators, and more.

Want to teach your students about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, the labor movement, and reform? Check out a lesson plan here.