The Triangle Waist Company was located one block east of Washington Square Park. There were over 500 employees — most were young women, most were recent immigrants. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the 8th floor. Workers ran to the fire escape. It collapsed, dropping them to their deaths. On the 9th floor a critical exit was locked. People on the street watched as the workers began to jump out the windows. Fire trucks arrived but their ladders only reached the 6th floor. The elevators ran as long as they could as workers pressed into the cars; some tumbled down the elevator shaft.
In the end 146 people died. There was a trial but the owners, long known for their anti-union activities, were acquitted. The fire became a rallying cry for the international labor movement. Many of our fire safety laws were created in response to this tragic event.
Young women, sewing machine operators, take a break for a group photograph. Though they smile and relax in the sun-lit factory, the work space is crowded and would be difficult to exit quickly in an emergency.
International Ladies Garment Workers Union Local 25 began their 1909 strike against the Triangle Waist Company and other shirtwaist manufacturers, which became the Uprising of the 20,000, with $10 in their treasury. A special edition of the city's Socialist paper, the New York Call, told the story of the strike in English, Italian and Yiddish. Copies were donated to local 25 by the publisher and sold by union members to raise money for strike expenses.
Fire fighters struggle to extinguish the burning Asch Building. Fire-quenching sprinkler systems, though proven effective, were considered too costly by many factory owners and were not installed in the Asch Building. Still the fire was quickly controlled and was essentially put out in little over half an hour.
A police officer and others with the broken bodies of Triangle fire victims at their feet, look up in shock at workers poised to jump from the upper floors of the burning Asch Building. The anguish and gruesome deaths of workers was witnessed firsthand by many people living or walking near the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place.
Immediately after the Triangle fire, workers assembled in protest. Signs call for fire drills in every shop, closed shops with union contracts, an end to political graft and to days spent working in fire traps.