Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

Language: English

Pages: 352

ISBN: 080214151X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


“Sure to become the definitive account of the fire. . . . Triangle is social history at its best, a magnificent portrayal not only of the catastrophe but also of the time and the turbulent city in which it took place.” —The New York Times Book Review

Triangle is a poignantly detailed account of the 1911 disaster that horrified the country and changed the course of twentieth-century politics and labor relations. On March 25, 1911, as workers were getting ready to leave for the day, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. Within minutes it spread to consume the building’s upper three stories. Firemen who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those trapped inside: their ladders simply weren’t tall enough. People on the street watched in horror as desperate workers jumped to their deaths. The final toll was 146 people—123 of them women. It was the worst disaster in New York City history. Triangle is a vibrant and immensely moving account that Bob Woodward calls, “A riveting history written with flare and precision.”

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appointed … World, Dec. 10 and Dec. 19, 1909. … “prosecute John D. Rockefeller…” World, Jan. 9,1910. … in his apartment … Times, March 26, 1911. Into the room charged . . . Logan: Against; Kahn, Swope. Swope was a strapping … Times, Junes 21, 1958. . . . Capt. Dominic Henry … multiple newspapers, March 26, 1911. … more safety precautions… In fact, I did not find any example of union leaders listing workplace safety among the issues at the core of the waist makers’ uprising while the strike

immigrants. A young worker would arrive in America and, with luck and labor, eke out the beginnings of a small enterprise—making blouses, say. Brothers and sisters and cousins and nieces would follow. As the business accumulated capital, the entrepreneur might use it to set up an uncle or an old neighbor from back home in the button business or the lace trade, and these became his suppliers. And if the blouse maker’s son married the lace maker’s daughter, all the better. Once Blanck and Harris

declaration. The stampede to settle was quelled and a policy of muscular resistance—the chosen strategy of Blanck and Harris—became the official position of the newborn Allied Waist and Dress Manufacturers Association. Inevitably, perhaps, once management hardened its position, violence returned to the picket lines. At the J. M. Cohen & Co. factory, just down the street from the Triangle, strikers and scabs waged a bloody fight. Dozens of reserve officers charged in from the Mercer Street

to lip service dwindling into forgetfulness. Certainly, the fire at the Triangle was a sensational variation on the theme of mass tragedy: the gory spectacle of flames and smoke pouring into a clear sky in plain view of the whole city . . . helpless victims dying in sight, but just out of reach . . . the awful realization that a huge and vulnerable world existed far above the street. And yet larger disasters, in terms of lives lost, had amounted to little or nothing enduring, except grief. In

injured, Max Steuer—the name rhymed with “foyer”—was a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who arrived in New York with nothing and started climbing. He had known steerage, and the Lower East Side tenements. He spoke perfect Yiddish and had toiled in the garment shops. These were his people. He had walked in their shoes. At the same time, he could treat this intimate knowledge as just data. For Steuer was not one of them. He was unique. This was clear even in 1911, which was the cusp of his

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