American Experience: Triangle Fire
Airs Tuesday, February 25, 2014 at 8 p.m. on KPBS TV
Originally published May 16, 2011 at 12:43 p.m., updated February 21, 2014 at 2:23 p.m.
Deadliest Workplace Accidents
View a timeline of some of the deadliest workplace accidents going back to 1860.
On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. The blaze ripped through the congested loft; huge piles of trimmings fed the flames. Petrified workers desperately tried to make their way downstairs, but the factory owners kept the doors on the ninth floor locked and the woefully inadequate fire escape soon crumpled.
Hundreds of horrified on-lookers arrived just in time to see young men and women jumping from the windows. By the time the fire had burned itself out, 146 people were dead.
Less than two years earlier, the workers of the factory had been leaders in an industry-wide strike to protest dismal wages and dangerous working conditions. Despite unlikely support from some of the wealthiest women in the city, including Anne Morgan, most of the workers returned to their shops without having their demands met.
It took the tragedy of the fire and the ensuing public outrage to force government action. The landmark legislation that followed gave New Yorkers the most comprehensive workplace safety laws in the country.
"Triangle Fire" tells the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory workers, and the struggle for safe workplace conditions in America.