The Impact Of The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

1491 words - 6 pages

During the early 1900s industrial fires or accidents were common place; injuries and the loss of life may have outraged a few people but like all tragedies the outrage would pass quickly and it would back to business as usual. One such tragedy occurred on Saturday, March 25th, 1911, it was closing time at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and hundreds of employees were preparing to leave when a fire broke out on the 8th floor trapping Jewish and Italian immigrants, the majority of them young women. One hundred and forty-six people died in futile attempts to escape the burning ten story building. The main doors were during the day kept locked and only one doorway was opened for the hundreds of employees to file out, one by one, as their belongings were searched for pilfered goods. Blanck and Harris, owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, faced no consequences in regards to the unsafe working environment and the death of their employees. David von Drehle, in his book, Triangle, The Fire That Changed America, states that this particular fire changed the political and industrial landscape of the United States; it was no longer ignored by the working masses nor was it quickly dismissed by the public - the public consisted of a huge immigration population from Europe, the “transfer of labor power and brain power” that eventually lead to women’s striking in the garment industry and setting a precedent in New York (Triangle, 3, 4). Several groups like the moneyed, educated elite women, the muckrakers, the Labor Unions, and the political machines that controlled neighborhoods of New York pushed for political, economic, and legal changes to the industrial systems - in a democratic social time of reform – they were like much welcomed rain after a long drought.
Newspaper reporters, in New York, sensationalized the Triangle Shirtwaist fire complete with photos of bodies lying broken on the sidewalk, coffins of charred remains, and bodies falling from burning windows. These muckrakers exposed the dangers of the garment industry and the policies of factory owners that are more concerned about pilfering than employee safety. These reporters increased circulation and add profit to their coffers, but more than that they were society’s watchdogs – the insider to the political and social workings of local and state government. They were the front line that exposed corrupt politicians and unethical business policies and practices that affected the working masses.
As Charles Seymour Whitman, the District Attorney for New York put it, “Publicity is one of the mightiest engines, if not the mightiest of all engines, in the fight for right and justice is this generation” (Triangle, 173). William Randall Hearst, a newspaper owner, and thorn in the D.A., Charles Whitman’s side, used his press skills and jabs to refocus the D.A. to the plight of the Triangle fire “horror” and to the legal responsibility that would be according to Hearst officially belong to the city...

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