The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Trial
It was a warm spring Saturday in New York City, March 25, 1911. On the top three floors of the ten-story Asch Building just off of Washington Square, employees of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory began putting away their work as the 4:45 p.m. quitting time approached. Most of the several hundred Triangle Shirtwaist employees were teenage girls. Most were recent immigrants. Many spoke only a little English. Just then somebody on the eighth floor shouted, Fire! Flames leapt from discarded rags between the first and second rows of cutting tables in the hundred-foot-by-hundred-foot floor. Triangle employee William Bernstein grabbed pails of water and vainly attempted to put the fire out. As a line of hanging patterns began to burn, cries of fire erupted from all over the floor. In the thickening smoke, as several men continued to fling water at the fire, the fire spread everywhere - to the tables, the wooden floor trim, the partitions, the ceiling. A shipping clerk dragged a hose in the stairwell into the rapidly heating room, but nothing came - no pressure. Terrified and screaming, girls climbed through streamed down the narrow fire escape and Washington Place stairway or jammed into the single passenger elevator. In the hell of the ninth-floor, 145 employees, mostly young women, would die. Those that acted quickly made it through the Greene Street stairs, climbed down a rickety fire escape before it collapsed, or squeezed into the small Washington Place elevators before they stopped running. The last person on the last elevator to leave the ninth floor was Katie Weiner, who grabbed a cable that ran through the elevator and swung in, landing on the heads of other girls. A few other girls survived by jumping into the elevator shaft, and landing on the roof of the elevator compartment as it made its final descent. The weight of the girls caused the car to sink to the bottom of the shaft, leaving it immobile. For those left on the ninth floor, forced to choose between an advancing inferno and jumping to the sidewalks below, many would jump. Others, according to survivor Ethel Monick, became frozen with fear and never moved. Two weeks after the fire, a grand jury indicted Triangle Shirtwaist owners Isaac Harris and Max Blanck on charges of manslaughter.
Douglas O. Linder,
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Trial,
Available at: https://irlaw.umkc.edu/faculty_works/895