100 Years Ago Today, Factory Fire Changed America

Deadly blaze at Triangle Shirtwaist site galvanized labor movement
100 Years Ago Today, A Fire Changed America

It was 4:40 in the afternoon on Saturday, March 25, 1911. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was close to closing down for the day in New York City. Someone dropped a still-smoking object onto the factory floor. Within minutes, the eighth, ninth, and 10th floors of the building the company occupied were on fire. Workers rushed to the exits, only to find that some of them had been locked. Onlookers outside the building watched in horror as workers jumped out the windows in a vain attempt to survive. When it was finally over, 146 workers, mostly young women, were dead.

A firestorm of controversy followed as investigations revealed the company had almost no safety precautions. The workers' rights movement was galvanized in the wake of the fire. The Wagner Act passed soon afterward, making unions and collective bargaining legal. A century later, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire still drives the worker's rights movement, notes CNNMoney, which looks back on the anniversary. Click for another view that the lessons are being lost today. (More Triangle Shirtwaist Company stories.)

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