Triangle Shirtwaist Fire American History October 10, 1999 The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (1911) What do we think of when we hear the word sweatshop? Many people associate that word with female immigrant workers, who receive very minimal pay. The work area is very dangerous to your health and is extremely unsanitary work place. The work area is usually overcrowded. That is the general stereotype, in my eyes of a sweatshop. All if not more of these conditions were present in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. This company was located in New York City at 23-29 Washington Place, in which 146 employees mainly women and girls lost their lives to a disastrous fire.
A superficial examination revealed that conditions in factories and manufacturing establishments that developed a daily menace to the lives of the thousands of working men, women, and children (Cornell 29). Lack of precautions to prevent fire, inadequate fire-escape facilities, unsanitary conditions were undermining the health of the workers. The need for an investigation was starting to be recognized. The hazards to life because of fire are: covering fire prevention, arrangement of machinery, fire drills, inadequate fire-escapes and exits, number of persons employed in factories and lofts, etc. Some of the dangers to life and health because of unsanitary conditions are: ventilation, lighting and heating arrangement, hours of labor, etc.
There was no insulation in the winter, only a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the factory. In the summer you suffocated with practically no ventilation. There was no drinking water, except maybe a tap is in the hall, which was warm and dirty. New York is the first state in the Union to authorize a general investigation of the conditions in manufacturing establishments within its borders. According to the preliminary report of the census of 1910, there were 1,003,981 men, women, and children employed in the factories and manufacturing establishments of New York State. New York has already expended great sums of money to conserve its natural resources. The conservation of human life, the most valuable of all things, has received but little attention. Fires and industrial accidents are fortunately only occasional and extraordinary events.
Their effects are visible and immediate so they are impressed forcibly upon our minds. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was in a fireproof loft building that was about 150 feet high, and it is about 12 stories in height. These buildings are usually of such a height that the Fire Department ladders and extensions and even the water towers do not reach the upper stories. While the fireproof building itself will not burn, the merchandise, wooden floors, and contents will burn. All fire experts assume that when a fire occurs on any one floor, the contents of that floor will be destroyed.
Ladders can not reach over eighty feet high; therefore people must try the stairways or fire escapes to get out of the building. The fire escape was a lone ladder running down a rear narrow court, which was smoke filled, one narrow door gave access to the ladder (Boston, Bedford 1998). The conditions and reasons for death of many women in that fire was mainly overcrowded, unsafe, sweatshop conditions. The Honorable Walter L. Fischer, Secretary of the Interior, in an address before the Fifteenth Annual Meeting of the National Fire Protection Association, states that the situation admirably: If the Government should suddenly lay an annual tax of $5.21 on every man, woman and child in the United States on a promise of spending the money for some useful purpose, that promise would not avail against the storm of protest which would be aroused.
Nevertheless, a tax which in the aggregate amounts to that is being paid by the people of this country. It is the annual fire loss of the nation upon buildings and their contents alone. It is expended not in productive enterprise, but in death and destruction, and an even larger sum is annually expended upon fire protection and insurance premiums. Not only is this property loss paid by our people, but also, in addition, annually 1,500 persons give up their lives, and nearly 6,000 are injured in fires. Possibly in no other direction is the national habit of waste more clearly exemplified than in the comparative indifference with which we permit such a sacrifice. In no other civilized country are conditions so bad as they are here.
It seems ridiculous that a people so apt and so eager to seek out and destroy the mysterious and hidden enemies of mankind should be so slow and sluggish in fighting a foe so plainly in sight and so readily vanquished. We have let the world in seeking out the causes of pestilence and removing them. We are in the very vanguard of the battle against tuberculosis, typhoid and yellow fever, and still we stand apart and let older nations lead the fight against an enemy much more easily conquered.(Cornell 28) In conclusion, I found the sweatshops and the conditions leading up to the fire the most interesting. How could people work in those conditions? I find that this sweatshop is not much different from a modern day sweatshop. The people are working in the same poor conditions for minimal wages. This is one of the most horrific tragedies in United States history, and hopefully now the work environments are improving greatly.