The Triangle Fire was one of the worst workplace tragedies in American history. But it also proved to be a critical event in winning decent conditions and basic human rights for working people throughout America. Located on the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of a factory building which still stands just east of Washington Square Park, the Triangle Waist Company employed over five hundred individuals. They worked under abusive conditions, nine-to-sixteen hours a day, six days a week, making women’s blouses known as “shirtwaists.” When a fire broke out at the factory on March 25, 1911, many of them were trapped. Some died when a fire escape collapsed, plunging them onto an iron fence. Others died piled up behind a critical exit door—a door that was locked because their bosses wanted to prevent them from taking even a few pennies’ worth of scrap fabric. They died in front of hundreds of their fellow New Yorkers, who could only watch in horror. 146 people died in the space of fifteen minutes — almost all of them young women and girls, immigrants and the daughters of immigrants.
They did not die in vain.
The Triangle Fire became a rallying cry for social justice that resounds throughout the world to this day. It
inspired improvements in working conditions that have saved untold numbers of lives and helped transform a nation.
In 2012, the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, held an international competition to design a permanent memorial for the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. The winning proposal, by Uri Wegman and Richard Joon Yoo, was selected by the jury out of nearly 180 blind submissions. In 2015 Governor Andrew M. Coumo has granted 1.5 million dollars for the construction of the memorial. In January 2019, New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved the design.
To learn more about the history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire visit the Kheel Center Archives.