Tag Archives: unions

Burning Women: Triangle Fire 100th Anniversary Illuminates Wisconsin Union-Busting

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The Triangle Waist Company, site of the fire that fanned the U.S. union movement into full flame, was housed, ironically, in the Asch Building.

On Saturday, March 25, 1911, it became an inferno, snuffing out the lives of 146 employees, mostly women, primarily immigrants, about two-thirds Jewish and one-third Italians, over one-half of them teenagers. Many were girls as young as twelve or thirteen years old. Child labor was routine at the time, as was weekend work.

Triangle’s owners, Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, placed immense pressure on he women to force their treadle sewing machines, like racehorses in their final lap, to produce women’s shirtwaist garments ever-faster. Their goal, not surprisingly, was to raise the factory’s profitability in an increasingly competitive field.

The Asch Building stood in the heart of New York’s Greenwich Village. Triangle Waist Company, a million dollar a year business, was one of the best-equipped factories of its day. Still, it was a horrible sweatshop with few safety provisions and almost no protections for workers against unfairly low pay, discrimination, sexual harassment, and certainly no paid sick leave, health insurance, or vacation.

Precautions against fire consisted of twelve red buckets of water.

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Copyright 2010 Gloria Feldt