Triangle Shirtwaist Company Essay, Research Paper
As the United States started its economic growth towards becoming theworld s largest industrial power, the working conditions in the industriesbecame increasingly worse.1 Workers were being exposed to dreadfulconditions like bad ventilation, poor safety precautions, dirty work areas, etc. It is around the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire that Americansare just starting to realize the poor working conditions in the factories.2 Afterthe fire, labor reforms would sweep the industry as people and thegovernment took firm action. In America Firsthand, numerous accounts aregiven of the working conditions in the factories and firsthand accounts frompeople in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. These accounts give insightinto what the conditions were truly like and paint vivid visual pictures of thetimes. There is also excerpts from newspaper articles written about the firethat show us how the media represented the tragedy to the public. Despitethe tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire and the other misfortunesof the industrial workers, they stimulated labor reforms that would improvethe quality of industries forever. Pauline Newman was a worker in these industrial factories around thetime of the fire. In a firsthand account of these conditions, she illustrateswhat life was like in these shops and industries. She says, It was a world ofgreed; the human being didn t mean anything. 3 This seems to be fairlyevident by the conditions they were forced to work in. They worked longhours with no over time, no ventilation in the summer, no heat in the winter,no clean drinking water, and dirty floors.4 When asked why how shesurvived she responded, What alternative did we have? You stayed and yousurvived, that s all. 5 And this was fairly evident in the signs in the elevatorssaying, If you don t come in on Sunday, you needn t come in on Monday 6 There were always more people, more immigrants willing to work. Everyone was replaceable. On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the eighth floor ofthe Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York.7 Fortunately the first sevenfloors had already left when the fire began or the casualties would have beeneven worse. The majority of the people who survived got out of the buildingby elevator. But there were 146 people who leaped to their deaths or died ofsmoke inhalation in the first half hour. The building was completelyunequipped with fire exits and sufficient means of escape. Besides the twoelevators, there was a single fire escape, and one stairway.8 Kate Alterman,Anna Gullo, and Ida Nelson worked in the factories and gave the accounts ofthe fire. All these women recall people frantically trying to find means ofescape. Many were jumping from the eighth story windows, accounting forapproximately a third of the deaths.9 Others climbed out the fire escape intothe courtyard where they were trapped. They went into the cellar where ironshutters kept them from moving away from the fire until firemen eventuallyarrived to cut the iron..10 Fire ladders could not reach onto the eighth floorto rescue the workers. And nets were of no use to catch jumping workers atthat height. Because of the lack of fire escapes approximately 154 peopledied in that fire.11 William Gunn Shepard, a reporter for a newspaper, was in the vicinitywhen the fire broke out. His article was in the papers with pictures,diagrams, and a list of the dead.12 His account of the of the tragedy shows
how the people of the times viewed the situation. He says, Men andwomen, boys and girls were of the dead that littered the street; that is actuallythe condition- the streets were littered. 13 The idea that the streets werelittered with people makes the dead workers sound like garbage that iscluttering the streets and needs to be quickly disposed of. He goes on to say: They jumped with their clothing ablaze. The hair of some of the girls streamed up of flame as they leaped. Thud after thud sounded on the pavements. It is the ghastly fact that on both the Greene street and the Washington place sides of the building there grew mounds of the dead and dying. And the worst horror of all was that in this heap of the dead now and then stirred a limb or sounded a moan.14The gruesome details the reporter gave in his article suggest that he wasintending to give the reader a very sickly image. In modern times such anemotional and horrid account would not be given but instead a veryindifferent article of the basic details. This article actually sounds like it wasintended to sicken people rather than make people aware of the stunningtragedy of it all. After the fire, 120,000 people attended the funeral for the unclaimeddead. 15 This was the start of the public s role in the labor reforms. Directlyafter the fire a group of women progressives led by Florence Kelley andFrances Perkins of the National Consumers League joined with TammanyHal leaders Al smith, Robert Wagner, and Big Tim Sullivan to create a NewYork State Factory Investigation Committee.16 This committee eventuallyled to a series of state laws that improved safety conditions and limited theamount of hours a child could work. One of the major problems with the factory jobs was that workers hadno control over anything. They were so easily replaceable that the foremenor owners had total control to do whatever they wanted. If they wanted tolower their wages, he did. What could the workers do? If they complainedthey would be fired. In Rose Pastor Stokes account of her life as part of theworking class, she said, The stogie-rollers were getting fourteen cents a hundred. Now it would be thirteen. We took the cut in silence. We were for most part poor little child slaves, timid and unorganized. The thought of union never occurred to us. There was no strength in us or behind us. It was each on by his lone self. 17 This was the general attitude of the workers. If the owner wanted them towork an extra couple hours, they had to. They could not say no or theywould lose their jobs. But strikes were becoming more and more common atthis time period. Indeed strikes were a common trend in the country at thistime. The combined effects of the strikes and the labor reforms led toimproved conditions in the work place. The battle for improved conditions in the industries was one of thosemost necessary fights in politics. Children were being taken advantage of insweatshops. There were no safety precautions in the factories. Peopleconstantly were injured from machines and sickened by the lack of heat orventilation, dirty water, and long hours. The Triangle Shirtwaist Companyfire killed a lot of people, but that is what it took for labor reforms to comeabout. That fire inspired people to help reconstruct the industries andimprove the working conditions. It also gave the workers some new hope forbetter wages and better all around treatment. These changes would havenever came about unless these tragedies occurred. So although they werehorrible events and many people died and suffered, the effect lived on inevery worker in the new reformed industries.