On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. The blaze ripped through the congested loft; huge piles of trimmings fed the flames. Workers desperately tried to make their way downstairs, but the factory owners kept the doors on the ninth floor locked and the inadequate fire escape soon crumpled. Hundreds of horrified on-lookers arrived just in time to see young men and women jumping from the windows. By the time the fire had burned itself out, 146 people were dead.
Less than two years earlier, the workers of the factory had been leaders in an industry-wide strike to protest dismal wages and dangerous working conditions. Despite unlikely support from some of the wealthiest women in the city, including Anne Morgan, most of the workers returned to their shops without having their demands met.
It took the tragedy of the fire and the ensuing public outrage to force government action. The landmark legislation that followed gave New Yorkers the most comprehensive workplace safety laws in the country.
American Experience: Triangle Fire, Tuesday at 8 p.m. on PBS 6.