The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Transformed Worker’s Rights
In 1911, the Triangle Waist Company occupied the top three floors of the 10-story Asch Building in New York City. The building was east of Washington Square Park, on the northwest corner of Greene Street and Washington Place in Greenwich Village. The Triangle Waist Company made women’s blouses, which were called “shirtwaists” and employed approximately 500 workers. These workers were mainly females who were young Italian and Jewish immigrants. They worked for nine hours each weekday and seven hours on Saturdays. They were paid between $7 and $12 per week, which was the equivalent of $197 to $337 per week in 2021 dollars.
On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire started in a scrap bin under a cutter’s table on the 8th floor. There was of course speculation as to the fire’s origins, with an article in The New York Times suggesting it may have been caused by the engines that ran the sewing machines, and Collier’s published articles related to patterns of arson in the garment industry as products fell out of fashion. The Insurance Monitor noted that insurance for manufacturers of shirtwaists was “fairly saturated with moral hazard” since the garment had recently fallen out of fashion. The owners of the company, Blanck and Harris, had had four earlier suspicious fires at their companies, but they were not suspected of arson in this case.