Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire, 100 years later

SURVIVOR ORAL HISTORIES

Dora Maisler

Dora Maisler was a sample maker on the eighth floor of the Asch Building survivor of the Triangle Waist Company fire, March 25, 1911. She is interviewed by Sigmund Arywitz, former California State Commissioner of Labor and an unidentified woman, in Redwood City, California, April 12, 1957.

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Listen to the Interview (31:45)

Interview Transcript

Q: All right, this is Mrs. Dora Maisler at 1864 James Avenue, Redwood City, California. Mrs. Maisler was - is a survivor of the Triangle fire where she worked as Dora Miller. Mrs. Maisler, how long did you work at the Triangle fire company [sic] site?

Maisler: I really - I really don't remember. It must have been from 1908 to the fire. To the - to the fire.

Q: And you were a garment worker from the time you came to America?

Maisler: Yes.

Q: When was that?

Maisler: In 1906.

Q: And you worked in a number of shops . . .

Maisler: Sure.

Q: . . . always as a shirtwaist maker.

Maisler: Always, yes. I couldn't get anything else. After I went to dresses.

Q: And then you were working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company at the time of the strike in 1909?

00:00:53

Maisler: Right. It was 1910.

Q: 1909. And you came out at that time?

Maisler: I came out to - to California?

Q: No, out on strike.

Maisler: Oh, yes, out on strike. I'd been on strike for twenty-five weeks.

Q: And you must have had some interesting experiences during the strike.

Maisler: Oh, my feet were not [inaudible] on the sidewalk.

Q: Do you want to tell us some things about the strike?

Maisler: Is George Franken still around there?

Q: Yes, George Franken is still there.

00:01:17

Maisler: He used to help us to picket . Well, the only thing I can tell when we were on strike, we weren't allowed to picket so we used to go with tools, in our sleeves. It was a regular Korean War. [Slight laugh.] So they put out - that's right. They - you know we weren't allowed to picket at that time.

So they put out plain street walkers, who used to fight us. So then we - we took off - we made the - the cutters helped us picket. So the bosses put out - put out gangsters to fight us and that was the practice. Now if George Franken is around, I wish you'd ask him.

Now the fight that we - if he's not too big to tell you. If he remembers.

Q: Oh, no, he still - he still remembers and he's still the same person he always was.

Maisler: He used to help us picket. Yes, nice man. He used to help us picket every time. After college. He was a student at that time.

Female Voice: He came down and helped you picket on the line?

Maisler: On the line. Every night.

Q: So what happened when you had your teeth knocked out? What was the . . . ?

00:02:21

Maisler: [Slight laugh.] Well, that [simultaneous remarks by group]. I think I was arrested then.

Q: And you weren't arrested that - for getting your teeth knocked out.

Maisler: Oh, we used to be arrested three times a day. Every time we had been picketing. In fact, the judges used to know our first name. Are you here again?

Female Voice: [Slight laugh.]

Q: So then after the strike you went back to work at [inaudible]. . . .

Maisler: With dogs. I'll never forget it.

Q: And were you - did you have many friends who worked beside you or around you at the time, the day of the fire?

Maisler: There was one more girl at the time of the fire but I don't know. It was - you remember Rose, the pretty girl? Her name was Rose Rose.

Q: Were you there, too, Mr. Maisler?

00:03:05

Maisler: No.

Mr. Maisler: [inaudible] I was waiting to go to a ball.

Maisler: To a ball.

Mr. Maisler: And she was going there.

Q: All right. So you didn't have any other relatives at the . . . .

Maisler: No relatives. Just friends.

Female Voice: Which floor did you work on?

Maisler: On the eighth.

Q: How many floors were there?

Maisler: Three - was it up to the eleven, or only up to the ten, I don't remember.

Q: I think the cutters were . . . .

00:03:33

Maisler: I only - I only used to go for - the cutters were on each floor.

Female Voice: Each floor had cutting rooms.

Maisler: Yes, each floor had cutters. It was a square block.

Female Voice: Yes, it was a big factory.

Q: So where did you work? In what department were you?

Maisler: In the - in the operating department.

Q: Were you a sample maker?

Maisler: At - at last I was a sample maker.

Q: At the time of the fire.

Maisler: At the time of the fire, yes. Duplicate samples, something like that.

00:03:58

Q: Now, how was the sample room situated?

Maisler: A small room; a small room. Only the half the size of this room. We were just about [inaudible] just about, in fact, three or four girls.

Q: And you were near the . . . .

Maisler: And the designer. It happened that when I saw the fire I was going to take a bucket of water and pour it on the fire. Before you know, my - my hair was singed.

Q: Well, perhaps you better tell us right from the very beginning, what were you doing when you were first - became aware of the fire?

Maisler: I was changing my skirt.

Female Voice: Do you remember about what time of day it was?

Maisler: Five o'clock. I didn't even lose time to open my drawer and take my pay. I left the pay there. [inaudible].

Q: So what happened? You were changing your skirt?

00:04:39

Maisler: I was changing my skirt and I saw the fire. And I wanted to help and he said no, so I was holding my skirt . . . .

Q: Who said no?

Maisler: The machinist.

Q: Now, did you - went, you saw those buckets of water and you tried to put out . . . .

Maisler: I was going to. He wouldn't let me. And I - and I was the [inaudible] and I was near to the door. So I got out all of them out.

Q: What did the machinist say to you?

Maisler: [Speaks a foreign phrase]. [Ganz sehr...?]

Q: He talked to you in German.

Maisler: In German. Yes. I imagine he must have been a German.

00:05:06

Q: So then you went to the door. Now, was that the - the door of the elevator?

Maisler: The door of the elevator.

Q: Well, how about the locked doors? Where were they?

Maisler: Well, they were on the - in the back. With the - the stairs. The only time that we used to have the - the locked - the - the stairs doors open, was when we worked overtime.

Q: So was there an elevator boy there or how - how does the elevator . . . ?

Maisler: There were four elevators in the whole building: two freight and two front elevators. So going up to work they used to take us, up. But down, we never - we never had a chance to - everybody had to walk.

Female Voice: You mean you had to walk down from the eighth floor every day?

Maisler: No, no. We used to wait for the freight elevator in the back.

Female Voice: Freight elevators.

00:05:51

Q: Oh, the two freight elevators. You couldn't use the front.

Maisler: The freight elevators, yes.

Q: And this was the front elevator that you went . . . ?

Maisler: Yeah, I went down to the front elevator because I worked in the front.

Q: So how did it happen that the elevator was there?

Maisler: They didn't - they didn't even know that there was a fire. They were playing craps downstairs. And it was cold yet in the - in the room there.

Q: And the elevator . . . .

Maisler: So what I did is I - when they were really screaming and burning, so I held them out and I pushed everybody back and I - and I raised my - with my foot I broke the - the window. You know, there was a window in the door. And that was the time he came up. And by the time he made - he only made one trip because everybody, maybe a hundred of them, wanted to get in.

Q: And you said . . . .

00:06:32

Maisler: They were stairs - they were - I was on the floor. They - I was making room.

Q: You said something before about their tearing your clothes off.

Maisler: Well, they - they wanted to - they think I - I have a better chance to - to get out.

Female Voice: You were the first one . . . .

Maisler: I was the first one at the door knob. I don't know where I got the strength to move out to the door knob. They couldn't put me - they tore off the clothes and they couldn't - and then - then I finally got downstairs. And that was [inaudible]. They were jumping already and all that. So some man took off his overcoat and he gave it to me.

Q: Well, why wasn't the elevator able to go up again to get the other people?

Maisler: The - the cables broke. They were burning already.

Q: Oh, the cable broke while you were going down?

00:07:12

Maisler: Yeah.

Q: Well what happened? How did you stop?

Maisler: I stopped the boys - I couldn't stop. They couldn't - they couldn't make it any more.

Q: How did the elevator stop? Did it . . .

Maisler: They went down to stop at the basement.

Q: It crashed down to the basement.

Maisler: Yes. Yes.

Q: Then how did you get out from the basement?

Maisler: I don't remember. I guess we were carried out. But that's what they made, just one trip. I imagine that the people broke the - too many people.

Female Voice: Yeah, there were too many people in the elevator and the cable broke.

00:07:40

Maisler: Yeah, and see, he couldn't stop it. He couldn't close the door. Everybody jammed in.

Q: Then you came out to the street. Do you remember being out on the street?

Maisler: Oh, yeah. Oh, sure.

Q: And you were . . . .

Maisler: And some man took off his overcoat because I was freezing.

Q: By that time were the firemen there?

Maisler: Oh, at the time, yeah. At the time they were there.

Q: And you saw the . . . .

Maisler: And the people were jumping already.

Q: You saw them jumping?

Maisler: Oh, yeah.

00:08:02

Female Voice: Were there fire escapes on the building at the time?

Maisler: They - they had fire escapes. I don't know what happened, why the - they - they - even the firemen, they came with nets and the nets broke.

Female Voice: Nothing seemed to work that day.

Maisler: No, it didn't work.

Q: And what happened to your friends who were there? The people who were closest to you.

Maisler: Well, the only - the friends - the only thing that the - that the - a couple of girls - I'll tell you what it saved. It would be more victims if it would be a weekday. A lot of them went home. It was on a Saturday. It was on a Saturday. They didn't want to wait for their pay.

That was one tragedy - one girl that I knew - I don't remember her name now - she - she was engaged to be married and her - and her boyfriend wanted her to stop. Says, no, she has to go back for her pay. And the pay, they wouldn't give you at noon. They have to give you after work.

The girl that got burned - I can never forget - she gave me the pay, she was burned. I have the picture somewhere.

00:09:12

Female Voice: How many people were in the shop all together? How many people worked for the Triangle . . . ?

Maisler: For the Triangle we had fifteen hundred machines.

Female Voice: Fifteen hundred?

Maisler: It was nine hundred machines on the ninth floor. I didn't like it. I once - once - the foreman kind of liked me but I - he liked me. He liked my work, I suppose. So he wanted to put me up on the - on the ninth floor. And I tried and I didn't like it; it was too much. It was nine hundred machines on the ninth floor.

Female Voice: The building itself you said was a square block. A block . . . .

Maisler: A square block. It was a huge building.

Female Voice: And they occupied three whole floors, or maybe even four. You said you weren't sure.

00:09:49

Maisler: I don't remember. It was eight, nine, and ten. The eleventh I don't know. A lot of them escaped from the eleventh floor, from the roofs.

Female Voice: They went upstairs instead of . . . .

Q: They went across to other roofs.

Maisler: Yes. Well, from the higher floors I imagine they went from there - the - the most victims, I think, was on the eighth floor. The floor that I worked on.

Female Voice: Is that where the fire started? On the eighth floor?

Maisler: Yes. That was the fire started, on the eighth floor. And the most of it, the tragic and the most tragedy was in the dressing room. They went for their clothes. In fact, I had a brand new suit, because I was going to go out. And I didn't go . . . .

Female Voice: You were waiting for her, Mr. Maisler?

Mr. Maisler: Sure. I was waiting on Grant.

Q: Where were you? Were you near the vicinity or . . . ?

00:10:28

Maisler: No, no.

Mr. Maisler: I was on Grant Street then.

Q: Oh, were you hurt at the time the fire Mrs. Maisler?

Mr. Maisler: How do you mean?

Q: Were you injured?

Maisler: No, not too bad.

Q: Were you - your hair was singed.

Maisler: Well, see . . . .

Q: And nothing happened in the elevator being crushed.

Maisler: No, no, no. No. No. Oh, black and blue marks but - not the . . . .

00:10:48

Q: You must have some considerable shock, though.

Maisler: I couldn't go to work.

Q: When was it - how long did it take you when you went back to work in the shop?

Maisler: Well, I had to go back and make a living. And I went up to - every time I went up to a place I looked around and I said oh, oh, too many boxes, you know, shipping too many boxes, in case of fire. I'll never forget I went back on the - on the eighteenth floor and I looked around and it was so crowded with boxes and I - I never went back.

Q: Right after the fire, well you probably took part in the mass meetings.

Maisler: Yes.

Q: And all the commotion that resulted from the fire.

Maisler: But my dear man, you know, it's forty-six years, forty-seven years.

Q: It was the anniversary a little while ago.

00:11:32

Maisler: Yes. The 25th of March.

Q: So then - did you partici - were you active politically at the time or did you . . . ?

Maisler: Not too much. Not too much. I was a green horn.

Q: You went to the funeral . . . ?

Maisler: Oh, I used to go, sure. But I belonged then to the union. I wanted them, you see. But not too much that you can make history about that.

Q: Did you go to the funeral?

Maisler: No. I couldn't.

Female Voice: You were still in a state of shock? Is that what you mean?

Maisler: Yeah, I cried. I know I couldn't see it. I just couldn't see it without [inaudible]. I was there in 1950 in New York. I liked to go in the cemetery. I have a friend of mine who every chance she goes to New York. She - she didn't work there. She - she goes to the cemetery. I - I understand there was one stone.

00:12:25

Q: One stone for everybody.

Maisler: For everybody. There is a meter maid with a time [inaudible] and long time. Two sisters - two girls and a mother - the three of them, they all three got burned. They were just sitting there just like this.

Female Voice: And you said I think before that the boss' sister worked . . . .

Maisler: The boss' sister was sitting next - next - next to me. The same thing. She got burned, too.

Q: Did she die? Was she killed in . . . ?

Maisler: No, she got burned. I don't know how, but she got burned. Choked. You know, most of them got choked there. And there was smoke in the dressing rooms.

Female Voice: So a lot of them died from the suffocation of the smoke.

Maisler: Suffocation. And those at the job, they didn't have not one, you see.

00:13:12

Q: And were you a witness in the trial . . .

Maisler: Yes.

Q: . . . that took place later? What did you think of that trial?

Maisler: Well, what I think. They brought down the doors to the - to the courts. And I remember the - the lawyer - lawyer Strain I think was his name.

Q: It was Max Steuer, wasn't it?

Maisler: Max. Strain?

Q: Steuer.

Female Voice: S-T-E-U-E-R.

Maisler: I think they pronounced it Strain. So, a little fellow. And - you know, he questioned. He said how did you feel when you knew that it was burning and you can - you couldn't save yourself?

So I said how would you feel if you would be trapped in a cage. The ninth was a cage.

00:13:54

He told me how did you feel? I said how would you feel if you would be trapped in a cage?

Q: Well, how - what did you think of the trial? Did you think that it was a fair trial or it was fixed?

Maisler: It's hard to say.

Q: But at that time you . . . .

Maisler: Well, I don't - I don't - I really don't know then. But I think they must have made the fire because they were lost an awful lot. They were millionaires.

Q: I don't well did they make the fire. In the trial, you know they were acquitted of any responsibility.

Maisler: They were.

00:14:30

Female Voice: Yes, they said they were not responsible for the fire, the trial said that they were not . . . .

Q: And somebody else we talked to felt that this was done by politics. That it was fixed so that they were let off of responsibility. You don't know?

Maisler: The entire time . . . .

Female Voice: What were you saying about the fire? What did you think about the fire?

Maisler: It's hard to say. What I was thinking is maybe they lost a lot of money in the strike. They lost an awful lot of money. With twenty-five weeks on a strike.

Q: But they weren't able to produce very much during that time, huh? Were there many scabs working during the strike?

Maisler: Oh, gosh, yes. All the time.

Q: All right, now . . . .

Maisler: We couldn't talk to them. We used to walk around and plead with them and talk and talk.

00:15:19

Female Voice: They didn't understand you or . . . ?

Maisler: Oh, [inaudible].

Female Voice: [inaudible].

Maisler: The next - the next - the next day they . . . .

Mr. Maisler: Go right back up.

Q: Now, - after the fire how long did you stay in New York?

Maisler: I stayed 'til 1912. And I wrote a letter.

Q: Did you work in union shops then or were you still in non-union shops?

Maisler: It wasn't so kosher, you know. It was still - I remember when - when they would strike and they used to go up and really I went up to one place and these [inaudible] materials, you see.

Q: And you were an active union person all of the time?

00:16:03

Maisler: Well, I - I did all I could.

Q: Then when you left New York did you leave New York for your health, or did you get just . . . .

Maisler: No, I just couldn't work. I just couldnt work.

Q: You couldn't stay there because of the fire.

Maisler: I couldn't stay because of the fire. I couldn't work anymore. Then my husband - we were married that time. And my husband suggested California. I said go ahead, you go first and I will help. So he went right after the fire. Then I came later. We were married. We were married twenty . . . .

Female Voice: You couldn't stand working in a building that was so tall . . .

Maisler: I couldn't stand working . . .

Female Voice: and so close [inaudible].

00:16:33

Maisler: . . . and I came out here and I - and I - well the first year I really didn't like. Didn't like it. I didn't have anybody. So when I - and I didn't have the price to go back, so I had to stick around. [Slight laugh.] By the time I went to work - I worked in a very fine shop - a Livingstones [ph] - a Livingstones; a very fine place.

Q: It was in San Francisco?

Maisler: No. Right here.

Female Voice: Right here in Redwood City?

Q: Out here in Redwood . . . ?

Maisler: No, no. In San Francisco. Redwood City was just a village. So I kind of liked it. So I went back - I went to work to make - to make some money to go back. So then I kind of got used. It was July and I wore a nice white blouse and then I didn't . . .

Female Voice: Didn't get full of dirt.

Maisler: . . . and it didn't get full of dirt and then I got used to it.

Q: Now when did you join the union here?

00:17:21

Maisler: Now what year was it? In '24? '25?

Q: Well, that was when they organized.

Maisler: Yes. That - that was the time.

Q: The union - I think the cloakmakers were started before that.

Female Voice: Was that still a blouse shop or were you working in a dress shop?

Maisler: No, where I worked was a blouse shop. And then I worked in dresses.

Q: And then after the union was organized, you were an active member here?

Maisler: I don't think I can I say I was very active. I was a member.

Q: I want to go back for a couple of minutes to the fire again, Mrs. Maisler. You said you were in the dressing room and you were changing your skirt.

Maisler: Yes.

00:18:04

Q: Did you have any idea of how the fire began? Did you see it when it began?

Maisler: I know it started from the - let's say I was - I was in this end - this end of the - the shop and it started in the other end. It really was a huge place, an awful big place.

Q: And what department was it . . . ?

Maisler: In the cutters department. Because they had all the - all the materials there.

Q: So, and that was back toward where the doors were and where all the people were?

Maisler: No, no. It wasn't near the doors. The doors was in - let's say, that was - there with the cutters, let's say. And that was out of the way of the machines. We were sort of partitioned off in the room. And way in the back was the - the elevators and the cutters in the back.

Female Voice: All right. In other words, the back part of the building, where the freight elevators were, was the part where the fire went?

Maisler: Not the - yeah. Not - no, no. Where the cutters. And then there - it was a square block.

Q: Oh, in other words the layout was that the . . .

00:19:09

Maisler: The layout was simply a square.

Q: . . . cutting department was not near any of the exits so the people . . . .

Maisler: No, no, no. Separate.

Q: Separate.

Maisler: Let's say it was it - it was a square block. So about half of it was the ship - no, the shipping was, I think, on the ninth or the tenth floor. But it was cutters and boxes. And then - and then it was about six hundred machines on that floor.

Female Voice: You mentioned that normally you went down in the freight elevator.

Maisler: Yeah.

Female Voice: Did anybody go down in the freight elevator that day? The day of the fire.

Maisler: They claimed that they made that trip. All the cables broke, too. They claimed that they made a trip. I wouldn't know because I went down the front elevator.

00:19:48

Female Voice: You were on the other elevator.

Maisler: Yes. The front. Because I was right - I was as near to the elevator and I'm - as near as I am to you, you see.

Q: I suppose in all the commotion you couldn't see the people . . . .

Maisler: I couldn't even make the [inaudible] door . . .

Q: . . . [inaudible] where the doors were about, you didn't . . .

Maisler: No, no, no. The worst panic was in the dressing room. They went for their clothes and not for the [inaudible]. They got choked from the smoke.

Q: And suffocated.

Maisler: Suffocated. Most of them were suffocated. There were more suffocated than those others that jumped. Jumped. I don't know.

Female Voice: Did people see the fire or did somebody say, "Fire, fire!"

00:20:24

Maisler: Fire naturally. Everybody said "fire."

Q: And instead of running out, they ran to the dressing room to get their dresses.

Maisler: And I wouldn't even risk staying to - to get my pay. I was right at the machine. I took one look back. With my skirt in my hand, I was - got a hold of the knob. And, I dont know where I got the strength; I wouldn't let it go. I felt terrible afterwards.

Q: You must have - you - you said something while we were chatting before. You compared the fire to the strike a couple of years . . . .

Maisler: Just as bad. To me, it's just - was just as bad.

Female Voice: The strike was just as bad?

Maisler: The strike was just as bad. Because we were really licked. We were in - arrested three thousand times. Every time we went picketing and we got arrested.

Q: You know, today when there is a strike there's strike benefits, we have the kitchens and the strike . . . .

Maisler: We didn't have anything. Anything. They didn't have anything. There was no union. We didn't have anything.

00:21:35

Q: Well, how did you raise money to finance the strike?

Maisler: We didn't raise money. We - we were peddling papers.

Q: And did you - you were one of the paper peddlers?

Maisler: Yeah, sure, I peddled papers. I was standing and I was freezing. Here we didn't have enough clothing, too. So I had about - oh, I don't know, a dozen papers. Some of them, they gave us more than some of them. We were lucky to get a dollar and two dollars for a paper and three dollars on Broadway, so when they - when they're coming from work, patronize us. You know, those sympathizers.

So one of my girlfriend's brother was there - and I was frozen stiff, so he gave a dollar and he took home. He counted papers. He said how many papers have you? I counted and he said, "All right."

Q: Did you ever see a picture "With These Hands?"

Maisler: Yes.

00:22:22

Q: What did you think of that? Did you live through all of that?

Maisler: And how. Yeah, they were showing it here.

Female Voice: Oh, you saw the picture . . . .

Maisler: The needles - the needles and - yeah. Oh, I go to that.

Q: Do you remember the pretzel scene?

Maisler: I remember. I sure do.

Q: Well, you were telling us before about the pretzels and how somebody had a nickel.

Maisler: That - that - that was the only money we ever got. You couldn't buy anything else, so whoever had a nickel, it was five pretzels. And the - you know, and things - they used to come in the baskets. I don't know if they have them now.

Female Voice: No, probably not, but I can still remember them a little bit.

Maisler: Do you?

Female Voice: I remember as a child. Surely.

00:23:00

Q: So . . . .

Maisler: So whoever had a nickel bought pretzels.

Q: And gave them to everybody else.

Maisler: Wouldn't you? If you know I'm hungry wouldn't you give me one?

Q: Well, of course I would.

Maisler: Well, it's a funny thing happened. I can swear every time, when I got a hold of a nickel, I said "Next time I'm going to go in a corner and eat them all up."

Q: And when did you do that?

Maisler: I didn't. I couldn't. [Slight laugh.]

Female Voice: [Slight laugh.] Whenever you had the nickel you couldn't see other - the other people starving.

00:23:28

Maisler: Who could?

Q: Well, that's what eventually built the union and won the strikes, that sense of each person helping everybody else.

Maisler: [Inaudible due to overtalk.] I still have my union book.

Mr. Maisler: How about this contract [inaudible].

Female Voice: Yeah, the ninth floor. The way they operated on the ninth floor.

[Simultaneous remarks by group.]

Maisler: Well, most of them, they - you know a man used to come and take ten machines, fifteen machines, and take those poor - those poor girls and . . . .

Female Voice: And what way did they operate?

Maisler: A section, you see. [inaudible due to overtalk.]

Female Voice: There may have even been as many as five or ten of these contractors on one floor.

00:24:10

Maisler: Oh, yeah.

Q: And then he got all the money and paid you.

Maisler: He - he got - he used to bring - he used to get the work. You know, we used to work piece work. He used to bring the work. It was - sure, he got all the money. He used to pay out two, three dollars a week. It was section work, you see. We used to make the whole garment, but the contractors used to teach - the kids didn't know.

Female Voice: What was the average age of the girls working in the shop?

Maisler: Oh . . . .

Female Voice: About how old?

Maisler: No, no. They were all ages.

Female Voice: Were there some very young ones?

Q: Well, were you . . . .

00:24:42

Maisler: More young ones than old ones.

Q: Were you one of the older workers then or one of the youngest?

Maisler: I was more the older.

Q: How old were you then?

Maisler: Well, I came to this country in 1906, I was sixteen years old. Then I was knocked around a couple of years.

Mr. Maisler: Then about eighteen . . . .

Q: You were twenty-one years old.

Maisler: I was twenty-one, you see. I - I was considered old. I had been through worse than [inaudible]. I was older than twenty-one.

Female Voice: And all the experience you had gone through on the strikes and everything else.

00:25:10

Maisler: I was - I was married at twenty-three. My next [inaudible] was in '68.

Q: So Mr. Maisler was over on Grant Street waiting for you, after the fire.

Maisler: Well, he was. I don't know. He wasn't - he - he was out of the - out of the - what do you call it? He was - I think in north New Jersey if I don't - in the past I went . . . .

Q: Where were you at the time of the fire, Mr. Maisler?

Maisler: He didn't know.

Mr. Maisler: In New York but I didn't know it.

Q: Well, when did you hear about the fire?

Mr. Maisler: When I went to take her to the ball.

Female Voice: Oh, you went down to pick her up for the ball.

Q: You went to her home or to the shop?

00:25:45

Maisler: No, no. At home.

Q: You went to her home. Well, where did you live then?

Maisler: All right. I lived on - on Grant Street.

Mr. Maisler: No, no.

Maisler: No, no, wait a minute. Where did I live?

Mr. Maisler: [inaudible].

Maisler: Ost - no. Cannon Street.

Mr. Maisler: Cannon.

Maisler: Cannon Street. Now, I tell you that I understand that it's ritzy but it was pretty bad there at that time.

Q: Where was that?

00:26:10

Maisler: On Cannon Street.

Q: I know. And what . . .

Maisler: Kind of near Grand, around the . . . .

[Simultaneous remarks by group.]

Female Voice: Near Houston [inaudible due to overtalk.]

Maisler: Yeah, around there. Around there.

[Simultaneous remarks by group.]

Maisler: They call it the East - the East River now.

Mr. Maisler: Towards - towards Delancy you know. And Eight Avenue.

[Simultaneous remarks by group.]

Q: Is that where the ILG housing project is now?

00:26:29

Maisler: Now. Now, yeah. I'll tell you a real good one. When I - when I was brought home it was a fire in the next door. And then I couldn't move. I said, well, I guess it's time for me to go.

Female Voice: You mean when you went home from the fire that night?

Maisler: When I went home. That fellow that had gave me the overcoat - I was naked. So he took me home. I should have had sense enough to ask him that. [inaudible] . So when I came home I was exhausted. Almost crazy. So it was a fire next door and I couldn't move. I said well, I guess now it's time for me to go.

Female Voice: This was your day.

Maisler: It was my day.

Female Voice: This has to be the last day.

Mr. Maisler: Yeah, she was laying in bed and looked out from the door and just across from our building a fire started after [inaudible]. . . .

Maisler: I couldn't move. I - I wasn't even - I didn't have the strength. I said, but . . . .

00:27:18

Q: I don't blame you.

Female Voice: So you heard nothing about the fire then until you got to her house and you heard . . . .

Q: Well, did you participate in any of the activities when this Socialist Party was very active and the Workmen's Circle, The Forverts. . . ?

Maisler: Well, they were open almost to everybody. We used to go to - to East Broadway, to get the news.

Q: Well, I mean, in the commo - excitement and the public opinion was so aroused by the fire. And neither one of you played any part . . .

Maisler: No.

Q: . . . in the demonstrations or . . . ?

Maisler: Over where they worked. I dont remember...

00:27:50

Mr. Maisler: And things was going on . . .

Maisler: Oh, yeah, yeah. It did, it did, it did....

Female Voice: They didn't have them but you didn't . . . .

Q: Yeah, The Socialist, The Forverts had big stories every day on this. Tremendous year.

Maisler: The papers were full. Full. In fact, all the papers.

Q: And apart from the daily papers.

Maisler: All the papers. All the usual papers. All the usual papers.

Q: And then you know as a result of the Triangle fire the factory laws were passed. And while it was a horrible thing at the time, good did come out of it in the long run. And the union built up.

Maisler: No, not - we have a pretty strong union now. I am happy.

Q: It's more than a pretty strong union, it's very strong.

00:28:35

Maisler: Believe you me. Now - now - now it's a pleasure to work in a shop. Boy, what we went through.

Mr. Maisler: Pleasure is not to work at all.

Female Voice: [Laughter.]

Maisler: Oh, well, if you have to work, it is a pleasure.

Q: When I was a presser, it wasn't such a pleasure.

Female Voice: Do you remember some of the things that went on in the shop as far as conditions were concerned? In some of the shops you worked in?

Maisler: Oh, well, there was always somebody that was trying, you see. I remember - well, to me she looked like an old maid. You know, at that time. I imagine she must have been in her thirties. In her middle thirties. You see? The way she looked, like I look to you now.

So she was - asked me - or they might - I don't know, but she was really pretty active. And she started the strike. She - she was really one of them. And then there was a couple of cutters...

00:29:30

Female Voice: What were some of the things that they were trying to change when they went out on strike?

Maisler: Well, first of all, we worked at a price. Not just what - what they would get. And whoever is fast made the living. And the slow workers. And then they didn't want the contractors.

Female Voice: The system of the contractors . . . .

Q: The subcontractor.

Maisler: And the subcontractor, whatever you call him.

Female Voice: You wanted each girl to be able to work for herself.

Maisler: Sure, sure. But then they - they took out those poor little - little girls and they taught them how to - to make a straight seam.

Q: How many hours a week did you work then?

Maisler: Nine.

00:30:10

Q: Nine hours a day.

Maisler: Nine hours - I mean, fifty-four.

Q: Fifty-four. And that was - how about the peak periods, when your busiest time?

Female Voice: In you were busy season what did you do?

Maisler: You work overtime to nine o'clock. To nine o'clock.

Mr. Maisler: Overtime besides fifty-four hours?

Maisler: Yeah.

Q: Did you work on Sundays very often.

Maisler: No, not on Sunday; Saturdays.

Female Voice: Was there ever any such thing as time and a half?

Q: No, no time and a half...

Maisler: No, no. It was piece work; it was piece work.

00:30:40

Female Voice: They didn't pay you overtime?

Maisler: No.

Q: Well, do you remember anything else about the fire, just before or just after? Or any of the incidents on the street that you would like to tell us about.

Maisler: No, no. I know I went down for lunch. In fact, that some of them didn't - didn't come back, you see.

Female Voice: Because it was Saturday some went . . . .

Maisler: It was Saturday, some went home at twelve. Except those that wanted the pay, you know.

Q: Did you ever get your pay?

Maisler: No. It was burned.

00:31:13

Q: You didn't make a claim to the company that . . . .

Maisler: No. No, no, no. It was burned there.

Female Voice: Do you remember how many people died in the fire? Do you have any recollection?

Maisler: About a hundred and fifty-something.

Q: Okay, well I think you've told us a very dramatic story. Now we're going to send this to New York and I know that they're going to be interested in this.

Maisler: I would like to see the book.

Q: Well, I'm sure that Mr. Stein will send you the book.

Maisler: I would like to if . . . .

End

Sweatshop conditions in the early 1900's

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