Though the original building still stands near New York’s Washington Square, there is no memorial commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that left 146 dead in March 1911, many of whom were young Eastern European or Italian immigrant women. Over fifty workers jumped to their deaths after a ravenous fire broke out on the either floor, a situation worsened by flammable fabric, a locked stairwell door, poorly constructed fire escapes, lack of sprinklers, and employers who were slow to tell the news of the spreading fire to those on the ninth floor. The factory fire sparked a wave of much-needed safety reforms across New York. A few plaques commemorating the lives lost to the disaster are already in place on 29 Washington Place, but no larger memorial remains, much to the dismay of some labor advocates.
“A lot of the victims’ families and the generation that followed, including me, have been waiting a long time for such a much-needed memorial,” said Suzanne Pred Bass, whose great-aunt Rose Weiner was 23 when she died in the fire. Bass is a member of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, which seeks to raise $2.4 million for the memorial’s construction and maintenance. New York University is the building’s current owner and is on board with the coalition’s goals, which include the installation of long steel panels on the building’s front inscribed with the names of the 146 people who died as a result of the fire.
Richard Joon Yoo, an architectural designer, and Uri Wegman, a professor of architecture at Cooper Union won a memorial design contest held by the coalition in 2013. “It positions the spectator to what happened in 1911, because your eyes are drawn upwards where the fire was raging and downward to see the names,” Mary Anne Trasciatti, the president of the Triangle Coalition, said.
Triangle Shirtwaist fire brought attention not only to safety hazards in factories but also labor conditions for workers. Many of the 600 workers in the factory were female teenager immigrants who did not speak English, worked in cramped quarters for 12 hours a day at a low pay rate. Their deaths brought about a protest coordinated by a workers union that was attended by 80,000 people. Though it lasted only 18 minutes, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is one of the most infamous incidents in American industrial history.
- (LEFT): Firefighters worked to douse the flames at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in the Asch building at the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, March 25, 1911 in New York City. Workers were locked into the factory during their shifts, preventing escape. New Yorkers watched in horror from below as workers leapt to their deaths from the windows above. (RIGHT): People walk past the Asch building in 2011.
- In 1911, people and horses draped in black walked in procession in memory of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire.
- Firemen search for victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Within one hour, 146 women workers had either asphyxiated or jumped from windows on the burning upper floors.
- A shirt bearing the name of a victim is held at a ceremony at the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, marking the 100 year anniversary of the fire.