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American History
October 10, 1999
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (1911)
What do we think of when we hear the word sweatshop? Many people associate that word with
female immigrant workers, who receive very minimal pay. The work area is very dangerous
to your health and is extremely unsanitary work place. The work area is usually
overcrowded. That is the general stereotype, in my eyes of a sweatshop. All if not more
of these conditions were present in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. This company was
located in New York City at 23-29 Washington Place, in which 146 employees mainly women
and girls lost their lives to a disastrous fire.

“A superficial examination revealed that conditions in factories and manufacturing
establishments that developed a daily menace to the lives of the thousands of working men,
women, and children” (Cornell 29). Lack of precautions to prevent fire, inadequate
fire-escape facilities, unsanitary conditions were undermining the health of the workers.
The need for an investigation was starting to be recognized. The hazards to life because
of fire are: covering fire prevention, arrangement of machinery, fire drills, inadequate
fire-escapes and exits, number of persons employed in factories and lofts, etc. Some of
the dangers to life and health because of unsanitary conditions are: ventilation, lighting
and heating arrangement, hours of labor, etc. There was no insulation in the winter, only
a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the factory. In the summer you suffocated with
practically no ventilation. There was no drinking water, except maybe a tap is in the
hall, which was warm and dirty.

New York is the first state in the Union to authorize a general investigation of the
conditions in manufacturing establishments within its borders. According to the
preliminary report of the census of 1910, there were 1,003,981 men, women, and children
employed in the factories and manufacturing establishments of New York State. New York
has already expended great sums of money to conserve its natural resources. The
conservation of human life, the most valuable of all things, has received but little
attention. Fires and industrial accidents are fortunately only occasional and
extraordinary events. Their effects are visible and immediate so they are impressed
forcibly upon our minds.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was in a fireproof loft building that was about 150 feet
high, and it is about 12 stories in height. These buildings are usually of such a height
that the Fire Department ladders and extensions and even the water towers do not reach the
upper stories. While the fireproof building itself will not burn, the merchandise, wooden
floors, and contents will burn. All fire experts assume that when a fire occurs on any
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