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AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: Triangle Fire

Airs Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2

Women sitting at sewing machines in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, with pil...

Credit: Courtesy of Brown Brothers

Above: Women sitting at sewing machines in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, with piles of white fabric in front of them. A sign attached to the ceiling at the back says "Fire Escape" and has a hand pointing to a window.

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, and 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.

Triangle Fire Preview

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York's Greenwich Village. By the time the fire had burned itself out, 146 people were dead. The landmark legislation that followed gave New Yorkers the most comprehensive workplace safety laws in the country.

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.

Photo credit: By Brown Brothers, March 25, 1911. Courtesy of Kheel Center, Cornell University

Bodies of Triangle Fire victims lay where they landed after jumping from the factory; a policeman looks up towards the building.

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.

Interview with Author Kristin Downey

Author Kristin Downey on the labor rights activist Frances Perkins, who would go on to become the secretary of labor and the first woman in a U.S. Cabinet.

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This film is not available to stream on demand. The DVD is available for purchase at ShopPBS.org.

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Credits:

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE is a production of WGBH Boston

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