Triangle Factory fire commemoration
The Triangle Factory fire took place on Saturday, March 25, 1911 in lower Manhattan. It left 146 dead—mostly young Jewish and Italian immigrant women. The fire began near closing time, most likely the result of a cigarette tossed into a wastebasket. It was fueled by the piles of highly flammable cotton blouses—known as "shirtwaists"—that the factory produced by the thousands. The flames spread so quickly that all three floors of the factory were soon engulfed.
Grief and anger spilled over from the neighborhoods that were home to most of the Triangle workers. The location of the Triangle Factory, just off Washington Square, meant that the fire was experienced as a New York tragedy, not just a worse-than-usual fire in the tenement district.
The fire occurred on a warm spring day. Many New Yorkers, out for a Saturday stroll, witnessed the disaster. Word of the tragedy spread quickly. The next day, newspapers all over the country printed graphic descriptions of the horrific way in which the factory workers had perished.
In the aftermath of the Triangle fire, public opinion, shifting political allegiances, and an active labor movement resulted in state and federal laws regulating industrial working conditions. A hundred years later, however, with the decline of organized labor and the rise of free market economics, factories that exploit immigrant workers are once again doing business in the U.S.
To learn more about the events surrounding the Triangle fire, take an online tour or, if you are in Manhattan, print out these pages and go for an invigorating walk. You can use a "Google Maps Tour" to organize your tour according to the sequence of events, easiest walking, or "most complete" route. If you want to listen to an audio version of the tour on your computer or cell phone, sign up for a free Travelgoat account and download the Triangle walking tour. If you're not in NYC or up for actual walking, you can take the tour "virtually" from your computer, reading the descriptions or listening to the audio through Travelgoat.
Here, for starters, are the core stops, in order. You can do them in any order, but the story will make the most sense as follows:
- Forward Building, 173 East Broadway
- Tenements on 6th or 7th Streets, off of the Bowery
- Cooper Union, 7 East 7th Street
- ILGWU Offices, 11 Waverly Place
- Asch Building/Brown Building (Triangle Factory), 23–29 Washington Place
- Washington Square Park, 7 Washington Square North
- Jefferson Market
- Carnegie Hall
- Metropolitan Opera House
- Henry Street Settlement
- Lower East Side Tenement Museum
We have prepared a PDF containing descriptions of all of the "core" and "additional sites" in the JWA Triangle Commemoration tour. You can download the PDF here.
Key resources on the Triangle fire
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Triangle Factory fire commemoration." (Viewed on February 9, 2016) <http://jwa.org/triangle>.