A Look At A Disaster That Shaped New York And The Nation

by Jesse Zanger

Click here to see part 1 of Remembering The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire: What Happened.


As New Yorkers, we know that horrors visited upon us reverberate around the nation. That was true with Triangle.

The conditions the workers labored under gave rise not only to the union movement but also fire safety improvements.

“It’s clearly one of the most significant events of New York history,” said Dr. Ryan Carey of the Museum of the City of New York. “It’s part of the construction, the creation of modern New York.”

“The poor people that were killed with that fire will never be forgotten,” said New York Fire Department Commissioner Sal Cassano, “because what was borne out of that fire, which was the labor law, the Bureau of Fire Prevention and our first fire prevention codes.”

FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano talks about the impact of the Triangle fire on the department with WCBS 880’s Sean Adams

“As a result of that tragedy, numerous rules were put in place requiring factories to install sprinkler systems on upper floors, keep doors unlocked and hold fire drills,” said Cassano, who also pointed to the creation of the city’s Bureau of Fire Prevention, which currently employs some 400 people.

“The Bureau is constantly working to find new and innovative ways to keep people safe,” Cassano said.

The remains of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in 1911 (credit: AP Photo/File)

A simple change that was made, for example, was requiring that doors to stairwells and fire escapes not open inwards.

“When you have a large group of occupants trying to get out one small door and they’re in a panic they press up against the door making it impossible for the door to open inwardly from the press of bodies,” said Chris Connor. Connor is a retired member of the FDNY and works as a construction safety engineer.

Cassano said the real legacy is lives saved.

“Fire prevention is a critical part of FDNY and, thanks to hard work by our inspectors, firefighters, fire safety educators and others, New York City suffered fewer civilian fire deaths in 2010 than any other year on record,” he said.

WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond with Vincent and Serf Maltese, who lost relatives in the fire

Labor laws also changed in the wake of the fire.

“The Triangle Fire was a devastating tragedy which brought attention to the many problems facing factory workers in the United States and was instrumental in paving the way for worker protections and safety standards,” said Rep. Peter King (R-NY).

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) agreed.

“The memory of those 146 lives lost dramatically underscores how essential 100 years of progress have been for ensuring that employees find safe and humane conditions in their workplaces,” said Nadler, who represents the district where the fire occurred.

The House and Senate have both recently introduced resolutions commemorating the disaster.

Mark Levin, producer of “Triangle: Remembering The Fire” discusses the blaze’s role in strengthening the union movement

Mark Levin, who produced “Triangle: Remembering The Fire,” a documentary about the deadly blaze, said the lessons from the fire resonate to this day.

“What’s amazing is that 100 years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire we are witnessing a debate about where there’s even a need for labor anymore,” Levin said. “We need to be reminded how we got here. It didn’t come easy. Lives were lost in the struggle.”


There are numerous websites with extensive additional resources for you to learn more about this historic tragedy. Here is a cheat sheet.

Complete list of victims

Cornell University’s Online Triangle Fire Exhibit, which was vital in putting together CBSNewYork’s retrospective.

McClure Magazine article on the fire from 1911

Remember The Triangle Fire Coalition

A look at the Triangle fire trial

Annual CHALK Commemoration of the Triangle fire

Share your thoughts about this disaster and its significance in our comments section below.

Comments (3)
  1. Nordru says:

    Does any one remember “Happy Land”?. This is also a NYC tragedy but gets little or no press. I would pressume that 87 immigrants mostly from Central America and the Caribean are not as important. I hope that for the sake of history I am wrong, (I seldom hear any mention of it, in fact, most younger individuals never heard of it and I am sure many readers). Yes, the Shirtwaist Factory fire was a horrific tragedy but as a surviving family member of the the Happy Land fire, I could attest that no matter how many years may go by, the memories of our loved ones will never fade. I have vivid images of that day, when I took my nephew to identity the body of his father. The grief in his face will hunt me forever. That horrific day will stay marked in our memories. The children and family of those who died, grew up suffering not only reliving the images of that day, but the psysocological scars they were left with.

    1. ron says:

      Maybe becuase happyland was Murder, and triangle was accident with people locked in as woman were almost slave labor back then…both tragic, but there are big differences….i was a firefighter in nyc for 25 years and for some reason some deaths are more important than others according to the reporters….

  2. Gio says:

    I would like to see a report from the Summer that Hoboken was burn to become wha it is now, where many people died, we had to moved, my family was too scare, they stared on 1974 I believe 1975 was the year with more fires , the whole town kwew the fires where set to move people out, and convert Hoboken on the little village that is now, we lived there for 4 years went to Hoboken High, great memories but sad ones, we knew the 3 sisters that died on 12 Street. But never ever anyone talks or write about this tragedy

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