THE TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY FIRE
As OSHA celebrates 40 years of protecting workers, we also remember the labor pioneers, safety advocates, community leaders and ordinary workers whose vision for a stronger America laid the foundations for the laws that keep workers safe and healthy today. The 100th anniversary of the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire, which killed 146 workers in a New York City garment factory, marks a century of reforms that make up the core of OSHA's mission. Use this page to learn more about a tragic event that led to a "general awakening" that continues to drive OSHA's commitment to workers.
"The worst day I ever saw"
One hundred years ago on March 25, fire spread through the cramped Triangle Waist Company garment factory on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building in lower Manhattan. Workers in the factory, many of whom were young women recently arrived from Europe, had little time or opportunity to escape. The rapidly spreading fire killed 146 workers.
The building had only one fire escape, which collapsed during the rescue effort. Long tables and bulky machines trapped many of the victims. Panicked workers were crushed as they struggled with doors that were locked by managers to prevent theft, or doors that opened the wrong way. Only a few buckets of water were on hand to douse the flames. Outside, firefighters' ladders were too short to reach the top floors and ineffective safety nets ripped like paper. Read more...
Information from Triangle Fire Remembrance Week
- Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis speaks at a March 25, 2011, rally in New York City commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire
Speech | Photos
- Presidential Proclamation -- 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire - [PDF]
- "Triangle's Echoes: The Unfinished Struggle for Worker Protection, Safety and Health"
(Video featuring Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels and Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith)
- "What the Triangle Shirtwaist fire means for workers now" (Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis editorial in
The Washington Post, March 21, 2011)
- Senate designates week of March 21-25, 2011 as "100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Remembrance Week"
- "Triangle: Remembering the Fire" (HBO documentary aired March 21, 2011)
- "Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire" (60 Minutes video aired March 20, 2011)
These resources provide detailed information on the events of March 25, 1911, working conditions at the beginning of the 20th century, and the impacts of the tragedy on workplace safety and health:
New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health booklet "Don’t Mourn – Organize" (See page 7: Dr. David Michaels "We must. We will.")
The Kheel Center at Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations - This site houses an extensive archive of information on the fire. Primary documents include newspaper accounts, interviews with survivors, and a partial transcript of the trial of the factory's owners.
American Society of Safety Engineers - ASSE, America's oldest professional safety organization, was founded six months after the Triangle fire. Its "Century of Safety" site provides information on the fire and the events leading to the establishment of the society.
Triangle Fire Open Archive at the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition An online collection of documents, photographs, and artworks submitted by the public that serves as "a living repository for stories, images and objects about the Triangle fire's history, context, and impact on labor, immigrant, and women's rights and everyday life today."
Poster for the official Workers United/ SEIU
centennial commemoration on March 25, 2011
Fire-fighters could not extinguish the flames or reach the trapped workers, many of whom fell to their deaths from the windows attempting to escape the blaze. Photo source: International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University
The social impact of the fire was heightened by the thousands of New Yorkers who witnessed the horror, including Frances Perkins - who became the Secretary of Labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Photo source: International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University
The factory floor after the fire. Long work tables and back-to-back chairs became deadly obstacles to workers trying to escape when fire broke out. Photo source: International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University
The Asch Building's single fire escape collapsed under the weight of fleeing workers and the heat of the fire. Photo source: International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University
Mourners from the union that represented the Triangle employees gathered 10 days after the fire to remember the dead and call for workplace safety reforms. Photo source: International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University
US Labor Department commemorates anniversary of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire [3/23/12]
Mobile site features audio tour and background of historic event