Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later


Abe Gordon

Job: Machinist

9th floor

Interviewed: June 19, 1958

I was under 16 years old when I was recommended for the job as button-hole maker at the Triangle shop. I must have worked there three years before the fire. I worked on the 9th floor where there were about 400 machines. Bernstein, that dog, told me if I was good I could stay on. Well, I must have been good because after a few weeks they let me stay and I was getting $6 a week. I was a good worker -- I had my foot down on the button-hole machine even before the power was turned on. After a while someone told me to ask Bernstein in a nice way for a raise. I went to him and he said all right, I will give you 50ยข but don't tell anybody. I went back to the machine and they kept asking me, "Did you get it, did you get it". I answered back, "Leave me alone". I did not want to spoil it.

I was mechanically inclined and I didn't like sitting at a machine too much -- I wanted to become a mechanic but first I had to become a belt boy. They asked me why I wanted to become a belt boy when I was making $6 and as the other I would make only $5. I went and saved up $12 and bought the head machinist an expensive watch fob. Then I became a belt boy.

We always used the freight side of the shop. On the other side, door was always locked but there was a key on a string hanging from the lock.

The machines were so close together that I had to go sideways to walk down the aisle.

Bernstein was mean. I saw him pick up an operator by the shoulders and throw him out into the hall. Everybody kept their heads bent down over their machines.

I was working on the floor at the time of the fire. The first thing I knew about the fire was the heavy smoke coming up from the freight side. There was a table in front of the windows where the fire escape was and they were full of boxes and waists. I pushed the waists away and jumped up on the table and climbed on the fire escape. I and my friend went down the fire escape and I could hear all the screaming and hollering in back of us and I don't know whether it was on the 6 or 7 floor where we opened the window and stepped back in the building.

I still had one foot out on the fire escape when I heard noise and turned around and people were falling, screaming all around. The fire escape collapsed -- no wonder, it was rusty on rust and no good.

I watched from the street. I remember how one man was out on the ledge. In those days they used to wear a chain with a watch across the front. I remember how he jumped and how the chain went up and he sent down.

I stayed with them (Harris & Blank) -- they went to Waverly Place. I knew they needed witnesses and I remember one day they called me into the office. There was a short thin man there. I was a "greener" but he called me Mr. Gordon and he tried to put me at ease. This was the lawyer Max Steuer.

He talked to me. He didn't tell me what to say but the way he talked to me I knew what he wanted. He said, for example, "Mr. Gordon, isn't it true that most of the time you saw the key handing there". "Mr. Gordon, isn't it true you could use that door if you wanted to."

I was never a witness but we used to go down to the court to wait in case someone was called.

The floor on the 9th floor was saturated with oil. It wasn't clean. I don't think they swept it more than once a week.

Some of the machines they used were the Standard, the 44-20 Singer, the Reese Buttonhole machine.

They used a lot of buttons, pearl buttons -- some styles had 10 buttons down the back.

The tucking machines were Wilcox and Gibbs.

The motor stood away from the shaft to a side and there was a big belt that transmitted the power to the shaft.

The motors were down at the far end of the row near the window. NOTE: STEIN QUESTIONS THIS ??????

They had a shop in Newark with about 150 people. They sent me out there for a time.