The company's owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, had
fled to the building's roof when the fire began and
survived. They were later put on trial, at which Max
Steuer, counsel for the defendants, managed to destroy the
credibility of one of the survivors, Kate Alterman, by
asking her to repeat her testimony a number of times —
which she did, without altering a single word. Steuer
argued to the jury that Alterman and probably other
witnesses had memorized their statements and may even
have been told what to say by the prosecutors. The
defense also stressed that the prosecution had failed to
prove that the owners knew the exit doors were locked at
the time in question. The jury acquitted the owners.
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Answer to Quiz #111
May 27, 2007
Forensic Genealogy
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1. What is the event referred to in this article?
2.  When did it occur?
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Peggy Strachan
1. What is the event referred to in this article?
2.  When did it occur?
1. The Triangle Shirtwaise Factory Fire
2.  March 25, 1911
Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25,
1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch
Building in the Triangle Waist Company. Within
minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into
madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting
forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire
was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died.  The
survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing
moments. The victims and their families, the people
passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from
ninth floor windows, and the City of New York would
never be the same.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
The Triangle Shirtwaist Company
The Asch Building
40°43′48″N, 73°59′43″W
The Triangle Shirtwaist Company, owned by Max
Blanck and Isaac Harris, was the largest manufacturer
of women's shirtwaists (today known as blouses) in the
country. Occupying the eighth, ninth and tenth floors
of a ten-story building at the intersection of Greene
Street and Washington Place, just east of Washington
Square in Greenwich Village, the factory
boasted more than 500 employees and churned out more than $1 million worth of
blouses every year. By today's standards the hours were long and the working
conditions unsavory. The employees were mostly young Italian and Eastern European
immigrant women, some of whom were as young as twelve or thirteen, who worked
fourteen-hour shifts during a 60-hour to 72-hour workweek, sewing clothes for a wage
of $1.50 per week.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company had already become well-known outside the garment
industry by 1911: the massive strike by women's shirtwaist makers in 1909, known as
the Uprising of 20,000, began with a spontaneous walkout at the Triangle Company.
Shirtwaist similar to
those manufactured by
the Triangle Shirwaist
Co. factory.
While the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union
negotiated a collective bargaining agreement covering
most of those workers after a four-month strike, Triangle
Shirtwaist refused to sign the agreement.

The conditions of the factory were typical of the time.
Flammable textiles were stored throughout the factory,
scraps of fabric littered the floors, patterns and designs on
sheets of tissue paper hung above the tables, smoking was
common, illumination was provided by open gas lighting,
and there were no fire extinguishers.
In the afternoon of March 25, 1911, a fire began on the
eighth floor, sparked by either a lighted match or a
cigarette. To this day, no one knows whether it was
accidental or intentional. The workers on the tenth and
The Fire
eighth floors were alerted and most on those two floors were able to evacuate.
However the warning about the fire did not reach the ninth floor in time.

The ninth floor had only two doors leading out. One stairwell was already filling with
smoke and flames by the time the seamstresses realized the building was ablaze. The
Partially reconstructed
newspaper article about the fire
from the
Omahan, Omaha, NE
March 26, 1911
other door had been locked, ostensibly to prevent
workers from stealing materials or taking breaks and to
keep out union organizers.

At the time of the fire the only safety measures
available for the workers were 27 buckets of water and
a fire escape that would collapse when people tried to
use them. Most of the doors were locked and those
that were not locked only opened inwards and were
effectively held shut by the onrush of workers
escaping the fire.

As the clothing materials fed the fire, workers tried to
escape anyway they could. The single exterior fire
escape, a flimsy, poorly-anchored iron structure, soon
twisted and collapsed under the weight of people trying
to escape. The elevator also stopped working, cutting
off that means of escape, partly because the panicked
workers tried to save themselves by jumping down the
shaft to land on the roof of the elevator. Their bodies
rained blood and coins down onto the employees who
made it into the elevator cars.

Engine Company 72 and 33 were the first on the
scene. To add to the already bleak situation the water
streams from their hoses could only reach the 7th
floor. Their ladders could only reach between the 6th
and 7th floor.

Upon finding that they could not use the doors to
escape and the fire burning at their clothes and hair,
many girls, aged mostly between 13 and 23 years of
age, broke windows and jumped to the ground nine
floors below. Others pried open the elevator doors and
tumbled down the elevator shaft.  Nineteen bodies
were found charred against the locked doors.
Twenty-five bodies were found huddled in a

One after another the girls jumped to their deaths on
the concrete over one hundred of feet below.  
Sometimes the girls jumped three and four at a time.
On lookers watched in horror as body after body fell to
the earth.

"Thud -- dead; thud -- dead; thud -- dead; thud -- dead.
Sixty-two thud -- deads. I call them that, because the
sound and the thought of death came to me each time,
at the same instant," said United Press reporter William

Few survived these falls; a single survivor was found
close to drowning in water collecting in the elevator
shaft. The fallen bodies and falling victims made it
difficult for the fire department to reach the building.
The remainder waited until smoke and fire overcame

The bodies of teenage girls lined the street below.
Blankets that would-be rescuers used ripped at the
weight and the speed the bodies were falling. Fire
Department blankets were ripped when multiple girls
tried to jump into the same blanket. Some girls tried to
jump to the ladders that could not reach the ninth floor.
None reached the ladders. The fire escape in the rear
of the building collapsed and trapped the employees
even more.
The death toll was 146.

Leap for Life, Leap for Death 5/31/2007

Wikipedia Article

Triangle Factory Fire

Failure Magazine - Fire Trap:  The Legacy of the
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
141 Men and Girls Die
in Waist Factory Fire;
Trapped High Up in
Washington Place Building;
Street Strewn with Bodies;
Piles of Dead Inside
New York Times March 26, p1


Stories of Survivors
Witnesses and Rescuers
Outside Tell What They Saw
New York Times March 26, p4


Three [sic] Blame Shifted
On All Sides
For Fire Horror
New York Times March 28, p1


Triangle Waist Men
Put on Trial
New York Times Dec 5


Girls Fought Vainly
at Triangle Doors
New York Times Dec 12


Say Triangle Doors
Were Never Locked
New York Times December 21


Triangle Case
to the Jury Today
New York Times December 27


Triangle Owners
Acquitted by Jury
New York Times December 28
Links to Newspaper Articles
Great Fires and Their Toll
The Omahan
March 26, 1911
New York Times
March 27, 1911
Read the Original Articles by Clicking on the Thumbnails of the Pages
Audios of Interviews with Triangle Fire Survivors
Max Hochfield

Dora Maizler

Pauline Pepe
Click Here for a List of Victims
Click Here for a List of Survivors and a Second List of Victims
Aftermath of the Fire
International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) drew a lesson from the events:
working with local Tammany Hall officials, such as Al Smith and Robert F. Wagner,
and progressive reformers, such as Frances Perkins, the future Secretary of Labor in
the Roosevelt administration, they pushed for comprehensive safety and workers’
compensation laws. The ILGWU leadership formed bonds with those reformers and
politicians that would continue for another forty years, through the New Deal and
Max Blanck & Isaac Harris
Click here for a list of witnesses.

here for excerpts from
testimony during the trial

here for the summation of
the prosecution.

here for the summation of
the defense.
Local 25 of the ILGWU organized a rally against
the unsafe working conditions that led to the
disaster. Meanwhile the Women's Trade Union
League led a campaign to investigate such
conditions among Triangle workers, to collect
testimonies, and to promote an investigation.
Within a month of the fire the governor of New
York State appointed the Factory Investigating
Commission. For five years, this commission
conducted a series of statewide hearings that
resulted in the passage of important factory safety
legislation. Frances Perkins watched the Asch Building burn, an event that influenced
her decision to become a lifelong advocate for workers. Perkins assisted in the factory
investigation from her position as executive secretary of the New York Committee on
Safety.  She later became Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt.

Twenty-three individual civil suits were brought against the owners of the Asch
building. On March 11, 1913, three years after the fire, Harris and Blanck settled. They
paid 75 dollars per life lost.

The Asch building survived the fire and was refurbished. Real estate speculator and
philanthropist Frederick Brown later bought the building and subsequently donated the
structure to New York University in 1929, where it is now known as the Brown
Building of Science. The building is listed as a National Historic Landmark.
March 25, 2001 -- It was 90 years ago
today when a fire broke out at the
Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York
City. When it was over, 146 people,
mostly immigrant women, were dead.
The incident is remembered as one of the
worst industrial disasters in the United

Rose Freedman was the last living
survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.
She died on February 15th at the age of
NPR Article about Rose Freedman, the Last Survivor of the Triangle Factory Fire
Rose Freedman
Photos of the Fire
and Its Aftermath
Hosing Building
Typical East Side
Italian Funeral for
The Scene at the
Another Morgue
Identifying Bodies
at the Morgue
Bodies are Laid
Out on Sidewalk
Some Women
Jumped to Their
Funeral Procession
A Hole in the
Sidewalk Made by
a Falling Body
The Building after
the Fire
Remnants of the
Fire Escape
My Great Aunt Della worked in this
factory and could be the first
seamstress on the left.  I think the
ladies on the right are running
knitting machines..and the seam
sewers are on the left.  I noted
something that could be sprinklers
on the ceiling.  The working
conditions of this shop look much
better than those at the turn of the
century.  The ladies don't look dirt
poor-note the clothing and hair
styles.  Of course this is the 20's.  
The men that are overseeing the
A Family Photo
Submitted by Suzan O. Farris
work are the owners.  That is traditional in small shops-they are there, observing,
making sure that the work gets done right and that stuff doesn't disappear off the shop
floor. In those days, I am not sure that middle management had been thunk up.