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Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire: 100 years later

March 24, 2011

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New York – A factory fire 100 years ago claimed the lives of 146 New York workers, but the resulting furor over inadequate safety measures led to reforms that have since saved many lives.

When the fire raced through the Triangle Shirtwaist Co.’s garment factory in lower Manhattan on March 25, 1911, many workers were unable to escape because the building had only one fire escape that collapsed mid-rescue, and factory doors were locked by management to prevent theft. Since that tragedy, labor laws, fire regulations, and safety and health protections for workers have been strengthened.

In a March 18 Washington Post editorial marking the anniversary of the fire, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis noted recent tragedies should serve as a call to action to make improvements in safety law, same as the Triangle fire did, and warned of consequences for failing to do so.

“History is an extraordinary thing,” she said. “You can choose to learn from it, or you can choose to repeat it.”

In commemoration of the historic fire, several television networks have produced documentaries on it, including PBS and HBO.

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