Technology Paper on Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Technology Paper on Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

One of the deadliest conflagrations that have ever happened is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which took place on 25 March 1911. It is considered the most terrible fire during the Industrial Revolution not just in the history of New York City, but on a national scale  as it took a heavy toll on the population resulting in the death of one hundred and forty six (146) garment workers, one hundred and twenty three (123) women and twenty three (23) men. The fire is hence ranked among the deadliest accidents to have ever occurred since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The victims chiefly included immigrants such as Jews and Italian women with an age range of 16-23with the youngest being only 14 while the oldest was 43 years old (Mercurio and Randall 2).

(Source: Berger).

The factory was located on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of the Asch building at 23-29 Washington place near the Greenwich Village, a Manhattan neighborhood. It has since had its name changed to the Brown Building, and according to Mercurio and Randall (3) it is the property of New York University.

Prior to the accident, the owners of the factory had locked the exits and the staircases as a measure to prevent the workers from taking unauthorized breaks. In addition, this decision was justified by being considered as a means to reduce theft rates. Consequently, most workers could not exit from the burning building and therefore jumped through the windows, which led to their death.

The fire was noticed at around 4.40 pm at a scrap bin on the eighth floor (Mercurio and Randall 4). It spread very quickly and in about half an hour, it had destroyed everything in its path on the three floors of the Asch Building. Importantly, the conflagration was regarded as a symbol of irony given the fact that the building had been declared fire-proof. Moreover, it was viewed as a safer place in comparison with other buildings. In all probability, even though the owners of the building were themselves immigrants like most of the workers who died in it, they had made a fortune by exploiting newcomers and paying them low wages (Berger).

A passerby at Washington place noticed the smoke coming out of the eighth floor and sent the first fire alarm at 4.45 pm. Unfortunately, in spite of the efforts of the firemen, it was nearly impossible to prevent a high number of victims. After the fire was extinguished, the fire marshals discovered that this enormous accident was most probably caused by an unextinguished cigarette butt or matchstick put in the scrap bin. It was also established that beneath the wooden bin were many scraps of several shirtwaists, which contributed to the accelerated inflammation (Mercurio and Randall 4).

(Source: Berger)

Aside from that, the marshals noticed that the scraps had been piled up since the bin was last emptied, and there were hanging fabrics surrounding the table, another highly flammable material. In fact, the only object around the table that did not present any considerable threat to fire security was a steel trim. Smoking was banned in the factory but workers would hide cigarettes and exhale the smoke through their lapels in order to avoid being detected (Mercurio and Randall 4).

After the fire was set, the bookkeeper who was assigned on the eighth floor tried to warn the workers about the impending danger but there was no adequate alarm system, and this person did not manage to reach the staff that was on the ninth floor. The foreman responsible for the keys to the stairways managed to escape through another route by the help of one of his keys without making any considerable effort to help the others. As a result, many workers were burnt alive since they could not access the stairways. The single exterior fire escape that the employees crowded onto had somehow been broken even before the fire started making it inefficient for such a high number of people. Fortunately, not everybody prioritized only one’s own escapet, and two individuals namely Joseph and Mortillalo saved many people by going up and down to help the staff escape from the burning building. After the accident there was an investigation, and the owners of the factory were charged with first and second degree of manslaughter for the massive loss of lives

Therefore, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire led to a massive loss of life, and a vast number of measures could have been taken to reduce the chances of such an inferno. On the same note, it is unethical to lock exits and stairways in the name of protecting of the interests of the company reducing the security of the workers. Apart from that, the factory was equipped with a poor alarm system, which contributed to the heavy toll of the accident.

On the other hand, the government is also responsible for this catastrophe since it should have ensured that this garment industry facility abide by the fire code and take necessary precautions. In addition, the authorities ought to have helped the factory to reduce theft rates by other means instead of leaving it with no other choice than violation of law. Finally, the government did not pay attention to the suspicious history of the owners and previous fires on their factories. For instance, the Triangle factory was twice scorched in 1902. Therefore, one can conclude that the owners and the authorities are equally responsible for what happened in the Triangle shirtwaist factory.

In conclusion, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was one of the deadliest in the U.S. during the Industrial Revolution and took a heavy toll of more than three hundred lives. Such a high number of victims and large devastations were due to an inadequate alarm system and unethical measures of the factory owners, who had the emergency exits barred as a measure to prevent the workers from making unauthorized breaks and reduce theft rates. The government should have paid attention to the working conditions of the factory and ensure that all necessary precautions are taken. Thus, both the authorities and the owners are answerable for the accident.

Works Cited

Berger, Joseph. “Triangle Fire: A Half-Hour of Horror.” The New York Times, 21 March 2011, Accesed 7 April 2017.

Gunderson, Jessica, Phil Miller and Charles Barnett III. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire (Disasters in History). North Mankato, MI: Capstone Press, 2006.

Mercurio, Mia L. and Régine, Randall. “Tributes Beyond Words: Art Educators’ Use of Textiles to Memorialize the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.” Journal of Learning Through the Arts, 12.1(2016), pp. 1-18.