Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Triangle Factory Fire -- 100 Years Later

On the afternoon of Saturday, March 25, 1911 a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Factory.  One hundred and forty-six employees lost their lives that day, and seventy-one were injured in one of the deadliest industrial disasters in New York, and the fourth deadliest in the history of the United States since the start of the Industrial Revolution. 

Horse Drawn Fire Truck En Route To Fire
Newspaper headlines across the nation on Sunday, March 26, 1911 carried the horrific story of the fire to the World.  Survivors recounted the horrors they endured, and passers-by told stories of the pain, helplessness and terror they witnessed that day.  A list of names of the Italian women who were identified appeared on the front page of the Italian-language New York City daily Il Progresso Italo-Americano.

The Chicago Sunday Tribune headlines read "New York Fire Kills 148", "Rescuers Are Helpless While Scores Plunge Down Ten Stories", and "Few Are Saved In Nets".

The San Francisco Chronicle ran the following headlines: "148 Meet Death In A New York Factory Fire", "Girls in Panic Leap to Death or Perish in the Flame of Fire Trap", and "Sickening Scenes Witnessed By Big Crowd In Streets".

The Library of Congress website Chronicling America provides several other newspaper articles that were printed over the next year as the investigation and eventual manslaughter trial against the co-owners Isaac Harris and Max Blank concluded with them being found not guilty.

The Triangle Waist Company had approximately 500 employees on their books at the time of the fire.  Most of the workers were young female immigrants, some as young as 14.  Of the 146 victims, 129 were women and 17 were men between the ages of 15 and 43.  Employees in the clothing industry would work approximately 9 hours during a weekday, and 7 hours on Saturdays and were usually paid "per piece".  Needless to say, working conditions were harsh and unsafe at best.  As a result of the public outcry and wave of sympathy for working women the Factory Investigating Commission was established, which went on to draft new legislation which mandated improved working and safety conditions for factory workers.

Of the 146 victims, several victims remained unidentified at the time of their burial.  There were buried together in a quiet ceremony which observed Jewish, Catholic and Protestant rites, since the faith of the deceased was unknown at that time.  In the weeks that followed several of these victims were identified as families came to realize their loved ones were not among the injured.  Until February 2011, six of the these victims were unidentified. 

Cornell University has long been considered the definitive research repository for the Triangle Factory Fire.  The university hosts a website entitled "Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire".  The Kheel Center at Cornell University is one of a number of repositories and agencies that worked with Mr. Michael Hirsch, and experienced genealogist, and exchange information and contacts with him. As a result of his tireless research, Hirsch has recently rediscovered the names of the six unidentified victims.

On March 22, 2011, Thomas R Lansner, an adjunct associate professor at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, published "The Triangle Fire 100th Anniversary: Heroic Moments, Everyday Courage" in The Morningside Post at Columbia University about the heroic acts and everyday courage exhibited by his Great Aunt Fannie Lansner who died in the Triagle Factory Fire. 

Churches, schools and firehouses across the nation are joining together with Remember The Triangle Fire Coalition on Friday, March 25, 2011 at 4:45pm EST to commemorate this event by ringing bells ... at the exact moment when the first alarm went out.

Though I personally have no family members that were involved in this tragic event in New York, I was touched by the story a year ago when I watched a documentary online one day.  Of my four grandparents, only my Grandpa Fred Arntz would have been living when the fire broke out.  He would have been 3 years old, and I can only speculate that the story found its way to the newspapers of Harbor Beach sometime soon after and was watched by the community members if not my great grandparents with some interest over the next year. 

Remember ... don't pass up opportunities to interview your older family relatives about major events that happened during their lifetimes.  After all, the best story is "the rest of the story" according to Paul Harvey ... which could surprise you by becoming a part of your story.

Love and Aloha,
Cuzn Amy


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks Amy! I had not heard of that fire. Grandpa Blake Soule used to tell about a big forest fire in Huron County when he was just a baby. He was wrapped in a blanket and place in an old well.

    Also I remember a fire at the Huron Milling Company in HB when I was about 10?; it was caused by an explosion in the powerhouse. Dad lost a good friend that night. I still remember it quite was my first experiences with such a tragedy and left an indelible impression on me.


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