Triangle- The Fire That Changed America

Drehle gives the tragedy many faces. He starts with a prelude and then the aftermath. With the prologue, he instills the idea of the triangle fire to the readers then sets the stage for the tragedy. He defines the political atmosphere at the times of the fire incidence. Drehle further states how the Triangle factory was created from the works of the trade unions and the origin of the workers and their migration to New York City. With a well laid out strategy, the writer gives an account of the clash of priorities between the elite of the city and the poor immigrants. He further describes the main characters that were directly involved in the tragedy, the victims, factory owners, survivors and the rescuers on the fateful day. While further researching the biographical information of the immigrants, the writer portrays the factory owners as people with their own perceptions and personal problems.


It took a few seconds for the fire to bring the entire Triangle Company down. However, the effects of the fire still smolder to date. This fire permanently changed the history of the American Labor movement. It was around 4:30 pm, on the 25th of March 1911 when the third floors of the ten storey building caught fire. The number of women in the building could surpass 500. Most of the victims were teenagers and young adults of the Jewish origin. These immigrants were working for nine and a half hours a day for six days, for $15 wages per week. Within 15 minutes, more than 145 employees had died while majority of the workers sustained injuries.

Drehle is led by curiosity to learn more about the fire that occurred 79 years ago. He notes this event in a vibrant way bringing to detail all the occurrences. The employees worked in squalid conditions. This was brought by demand of employment among the immigrants and no voice of the trade unions was available to defend them. Around that period, immigrants were desperate for employment. Hence, they were willing to work under poor conditions and at any wage. These destabilized efforts by the union to bargain on their behalf.

The writer clearly states that on that fateful day little could be done by the workers and the rescue team. Because the girls were known to be smokers, the workers were locked in the building. Other doors had been closed with the sole intention of preventing the workers from getting out with purloined garments. The fire escape had collapsed under the weight of the workers. The fire departments longest ladder could only reach the seventh floor and the fire hoses were rotten at the folds. This further complicated the rescue mission as fire could not be cut off from its nascent stage. Due to panic, women jumped from the ninth floor further eliminating a faster movement of the rescuers to the building as their bodies were splattered everywhere. Many were hurt beyond recognition and had to be buried in a single grave. Over 100,000 New York citizens attended the funeral.

The writer further describes the developments that were taking place in Manhattan at the time. This 10-storey building was among the modern buildings by then. They were deemed to be fireproof. The Asch building housed the Triangle Company at its top three floors. The factory, being among the tops in the hypercompetitive industry, overworked their workers and paid them peanuts. The Tammany Hall politics led New York to create a commission to oversee the incidence. Assemblyman Alfred E. Smith and Sen. Robert Wagner headed the commission. They pressed through 25 bills that remodeled the labor law. This resulted in automatic sprinklers in high buildings, fire drills, unlocked doors that swing outward and protection of the women and children.

Events that unfolded after the fire tragedy made this incidence alive in the minds of the many for a long time. Those affected include the criminal trial of the factory holders, the government and public response to the fire (Drehle, 2004). For the first few decades of the twentieth century, a fierce battle ensued between the factory owners and the workers and their union. One of the major participants was the Womens trade union league. The factory owners were charged for multiple counts of manslaughter. In as much as the trial was deficient of contemporary components of media mayhem, the interest of the public in the proceedings equated it to the O.J. Simpson trial (Drehle, 2004). The writer emphasizes that, in as much as Steuer was not the most popular attorney of the time, the factory owners maintained Max Steuer as their only attorney. Steuer only represented clients that were able to pay him a significant fee amounting to $10,000. This he was paid per person. The owners got the value of their money as they were both found not guilty. This made the public outrageous. In as much as they were free men, they needed protection to be smuggled out of the court rooms.

Even though the verdict was a slap on the face of the public, the victims death was not in vain. There came the fire prevention legislation, workers compensation acts, factory inspection laws and the international ladies garment workers union. This has further brought significant meanings to the fire tragedy of 1911. The writer notes of the agenda to embrace minimum wages, maximum hours of working, end of child labor, and social insurance. As a result, some of the movements also sprung. This included the Womens rights, urban liberalism and labor empowerment that began in New York before spreading to the entire nation.

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