The fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City, which claimed the lives of 146 young immigrant workers, is one of the worst disasters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This incident has had great significance to this day because it highlights the inhumane working conditions to which industrial workers can be subjected. To many, its horrors epitomize the extremes of industrialism. The tragedy still dwells in the collective memory of the nation and of the international labor movement. The victims of the tragedy are still celebrated as martyrs at the hands of industrial greed.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was a typical factory in the heart of Manhattan. Low wages, excessively long hours, and unsanitary and dangerous working conditions were the hallmarks of sweatshops. Many of the Triangle factory workers were women, some as young as 14 years old. They were, for the most part, recent Italian and European Jewish immigrants
Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died.
Workers recounted their helpless efforts to open the ninth floor doors to the Washington Place stairs .They and many others afterwards believed they were deliberately locked—the owners had frequently locked the exit doors in the past, claiming that workers stole materials. For all practical purposes, the ninth floor fire escape led nowhere, certainly not to safety, and it bent under the weight of the factory workers trying to escape the inferno. Others waited at the windows for the rescue workers only to discover that the firefighters' ladders were several stories too short and the water from the hoses could not reach the top floors. Many chose to jump to their deaths rather than to burn alive.
A grand jury acquitted the owners of any wrong doing.
1938 mural by Enest Feeney History of the Needlecraft Industry