On March 25, 1911, in Manhattan, a fire was ignited on the eighth floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building. Elevators failed, stairs were crowded, and many in despair jumped from the eighth story (Robinson & Robinson, 2018). Most employees residing on the 9th and the 10th floors escaped the fire by reaching the roof of the building. Out of 500 workers, 146 died, and after the tragedy, there was a wave of protests criticizing working conditions in factories (Pearcy, 2019). There are speculations about the causes of the flame, but the wood the building was made of and the enormous amounts of flammable material such as textiles, contributed significantly to the fire.
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The fire was a mere accident or a violation of safety rules. According to some reports, someone dropped a still-burning cigarette into a trash can filled with cloth cuttings and fire started. It lasted about 20 minutes and impacted about three floors (Robinson & Robinson, 2018). There were no chemicals or fossil fuel to feed the flame, but fast-burning fabric and textiles did the damage. The building was wooden, so there was a risk of fire spreading up and eventually killing the survivors on the roof. Some people caught fire, some suffocated inside the smoke, and some died after throwing themselves out of the building (Robinson & Robinson, 2018). The factory was not meant to handle fire accidents.
There were many lessons to learn from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy. The American Society of Safety Engineers (AASP), which is the world’s first enterprise safety association, was created in 1911. Trade unions became more active, and communities of women joined the fight for rights (Robinson & Robinson, 2018). Safety regulations had to be revised because the society would not have tolerated another such accident. The tragedy had a significant impact on the future reforms.
Pearcy, M. (2019). “Great Disasters”: A lesson on the role of government in disaster relief and reform. Ohio Social Studies Review, 55(1), 5-13.
Robinson, P. H., & Robinson, S. (2018). 1911 Triangle Factory fire: Building safety codes. In Crimes that changed our world: Tragedy, outrage, and reform (pp. 1-15). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.