March 25th marks the anniversary of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where 146 garment workers lost their lives in the deadliest industrial fire in the history of New York City. The fire was most likely caused by an unextinguished match or cigarette butt accidently thrown into a scrap bin. It broke out on a Saturday afternoon on the eighth floor of the factory and quickly spread to floors nine and ten. Most of the deaths occurred on the ninth floor, where workers were unable to escape because of locked exit doors. The victims, 123 women and 23 men, primarily Italian and Jewish immigrants between the ages of 16 and 23, died from either the heat of the fire, smoke inhalation or falling or jumping to their deaths.
The tragedy of this fire helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU), an organization that fought to create legislation to improve factory safety standards. At the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the fire in 1961, David Dubinsky, President of the ILGWU, said: "These were our martyrs because what we couldn't accomplish by reasoning with the bosses, by pleading with the bosses, by arguing with the bosses, they accomplished with their deaths."
The Asch building, located at 23-29 Washington Place in Greenwich Village, where the fire took place was built in 1901. It still stands and is now the Brown Building, owned by New York University. There are several commemorative plaques on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street. The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is in the process of building a permanent art memorial to the victims and the legacy. Click here to find out more: http://rememberthetrianglefire.org/
To learn more about the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, visit: