Sunday, December 19, 2010

Walking Past History: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

As one walks around the city they may not even realize some buildings in which history changing events have occurred as they pass by. What is now NYU's Brown Building of Science was once the Asch Building. This is the building where, on March 25, 1911 a disaster what is now known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire occurred. In the fire 146 garment workers, mostly women, lost their lives. Mass chaos ensued where blocked exits hampered efforts to escape and nearly half the victims fell to their death, either by an intentional choice to jump or faulty fire escapes that buckled under the weight from people attempting to escape. The ladders used by the fire department at the time was only able to reach the 6th floor and the lack of alarms in the building created a situation where workers were not even made aware of the fire until it was too late.

Many of the circumstances surrounding this tragedy are unheard of today. One example of this is the fact that exits were blocked to prevent employees from leaving their shifts early. The distrust of employees, customers, or general public lead to many disturbing parallels of blocked exits in other notable fire disasters of the day; such as the Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire in Boston where windows and exits were barred to prevent patrons from leaving without paying their tabs, or the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago where complicated locks secured exits to prevent people from sneaking in.

It was considered one of New York City's deadliest fires until the World Trade Center attacks that occured on September 11th, 2001. The fire led to a major fallout of scandals, changes in working conditions, changes in city codes, and political agendas that still touch out lives on a daily basis to this day.

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