The Triangle fire was the single worst workday catastrophe to befall New York City (until the 9/11 attacks). On this day a century ago, a small fire broke out in a pile of cloth scraps on the eighth floor of the downtown factory, then quickly spread to the ninth and 10th floors. In minutes, the blaze turned deadly, and a total of 146 workers died. Most of them were recent immigrant girls in their teens and twenties.
Illegally locked exit doors, flimsy fire escapes that collapsed under the weight of panicky workers, doors that opened inward, not outward, and a faulty communication system all contributed to the horrors of that day. The victims died from suffocation, being burnt alive, or--most piteous of all--leaping to their deaths from eight floors up, because NYC firefighting ladders could only extend up six floors.
Out of the horror of that day, the Ladies' Garment Workers' Union was born. And a raft of legislation was voted in to law to protect workers and keep them safe. A hundred years later, our work-safety codes are direct descendants of the laws that were passed in the wake of that tragedy.
photo credit: Unknown, but I found this image here
The next time you walk through a door that says, "This door to remain unlocked during business hours," take a moment. Pause and think of Tillie, Margaret, Max, Yetta, Mary, Nellie, and all the other young people who died that day.
They deserve to be remembered.
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P.S. For a good historical account of the disaster, try "Triangle: The Fire That Changed America," by David von Drehle.