Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later


Triangle Fire

  • Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, owners of the large Triangle Shirtwaist factory were known as the Shirtwaist Kings. They immigrated to the United States from Russia and had made a fortune manufacturing Gibson girl style blouses. To secure their profits when margins were slim, they successfully fended off the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union's attempts to organize their factory during the shirtwaist strike of 1909-1910.
  • Triangle Waist Company owners Isaac Harris (front row near center with hands folded) and Max Blanck (in a dark suit to the right of Harris) with a group, probably visitors and workers at one of their factories.
  • The floor plan of the Asch Building’s 9th floor, on the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, shows the layout of eight, long tables in relation to the cloak room, windows, fire escape, elevators, and stairs. High ceilings included in the space-per-person calculations, allowed owners to employ 240 people in a relatively-small area resulting in the rapid transmission of illness among workers and leaving little space for moving safely through the room.
  • Fire fighters from Ladder Company 20 arrived at the Triangle Waist Company minutes after the alarm was sounded and sprayed water at the burning Asch Building hoping that the dampening mist, too weak to put out the fire by the time it reached the top floors, would cool the panicked workers who had been forced to window ledges by extreme heat, smoke, flames and blocked exits.
  • 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.
  • Fire fighters arrived at the Asch Building soon after the alarm was sounded but ladders only reached the sixth floor and the high pressure pumps of the day could not raise the water pressure needed to extinguish the flames on the highest floors of the ten-story building. In this fireproof factory, 146 young men, women, and children lost their lives, and many others were seriously injured.
  • The Asch Building was one of the new “fireproof” buildings, but the blaze on March 25th was not their first. It was also not the only unsafe building where so many young immigrant women worked six or seven days each week.
  • The flimsy fire escape ladder descended close to the building forcing those fleeing to struggle through flames and past warped iron window shutters stuck open across their path. Sections of ladder which ended two stories above the ground, twisted and collapsed under the weight of workers trying to escape the fire killing many who had chosen it as their lifeline.
  • At the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, onlookers saw fire fighters struggling to save workers and control the blaze. The tallest fire truck ladders reached only to the sixth floor, 30 feet below most of those standing on window ledges waiting desperately for rescue. Men and women, escaping the fire in the only way they thought possible, jumped from the windows to their deaths while people in the street below pleaded with them to wait for help.
  • 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. Others read about it in the many newspaper reports circulated during the following days and weeks, bringing the conditions of garment worker into public scrutiny as it had been during the shirtwaist strike of 1909.
  • Doctors examining each body on the sidewalk and street for signs of life located only a few survivors. Officers gathered personal items for safe keeping and to help identify the victim, including money, pay envelopes, papers, and jewelry, then placed numbered tags on victims before taking them to the 26th Street pier temporary morgue.
  • Unrecognizable bodies lay on the sidewalk along Greene Street, together with hoses, fire rescue nets, and part of a wagon. All were drenched by the tons of water used to contain and extinguish the fire.
  • After the Triangle factory fire was extinguished, broken bodies, hoses, buckets, and debris around the building testify to the extent of the struggle and the scale of the tragedy.
  • Glass sidewalk vault lights were broken by the fall of Triangle fire victims who jumped to their deaths in order to escape the inferno. Water from fire hoses washed down on top of them observed by horrified witnesses.
  • Fire fighters and police officers collected jewelry, handbags, money, pay envelopes and other personal objects from victims at the Asch Building and carried them to the 26th Street pier morgue where they were used to help identify the dead.
  • Working under lights, a police officer holds a small casket amid the wrecked bodies of Triangle fire victims. Nearby, others wait to help carry the dead to the covered 26th Street pier where a temporary police station and morgue had been set up after it was determined that the city morgue was not large enough to handle the fire’s casualties.
  • An officer stands at the Asch Building’s 9th floor window after the Triangle fire. Sewing machines, drive shafts, and other wreckage of the Triangle factory fire are piled in the center of the blaze-scoured room.
  • The 240 employees sewing shirtwaists on the ninth floor had their escape blocked by paired sewing machines on 75-foot long tables, back-to-back chairs and work baskets in the aisles. Walking space was so inadequate that many had to waste precious time climbing over tables to get to the stairs, fire escape, elevators and windows that might lead to safety.
  • The tenth floor of the factory housed the offices of company executives, the switchboard, 40 garment pressers, inspectors and the packing and shipping room. After receiving a warning call from a worker on the eighth floor, most were able to escape over the roof to the adjacent New York University building with the aid of faculty members and students. Of the 70 people on that floor, all were saved but two.
  • Police and fire fighters spent four discouraging hours lowering shrouded bodies from the factory after the Triangle fire.
Sweatshop conditions in the early 1900's