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The triangle shirt waist company fire of 1911 is remembered as one of the greatest industrial accidents in the American history. It occurred in a garment factory in New York that was manufacturing blouses for women. The factory occupied the three top floors of Asch building, a ten floor building, in Manhattan garment district. The majority of the employees in the factory were young immigrant women. On Saturday, March 25th, as the employees were about to leave after work, one of the employees noticed a fire coming from one of the cutting room. In total 146 people died in this tragedy.
There are many factors that have been identified as having contributed to the tragedy. According to Jonell Broyles fire safety laws did exist then but they were not properly enforced. Furthermore they were more inclined to protecting the building from fire other than for protecting individual employees from fire hazards. After the tragedy the fire safety, the authorities become more sensitive to the plight of factory workers and their safety was given more attention.
The building that housed the factory had all its exits closed to prevent workers from stealing from their employer. Furthermore when the fire broke, the managers closed the doors with the employees inside again to ensure that the employees did not take advantage of the situation and steal.
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This became the subject of a lot of debate with the socialist blaming capitalism for such ills saying the system puts more emphasis on enriching oneself at any cost even human. The company owners were accused of minding their property more than the workers. They were prosecuted for closing the exits to the building but were later acquitted by the court found the witnesses as having been cautioned on what to say in court.
The tragedy also gave impetus to labor laws. The working conditions at the factory and many of its kind were poor. The employees were working for nine hours on weekdays and seven hours on Saturday. These were by all means long working hours. The pay in these factories was also poor and was pegged to the number of garments one makes. The tragedy brought to the fore the conditions in the factories and this led to a clamor for better labor laws.
The tragedy also drew attention to the condition of the immigrants especially young women who formed the majority of empLoyees in these factories. According to an article "City Life at the turn of the 20th Century," the tragedy and the working condition inflamed public opinion which lead to reforms in working conditions for women and children.
The Triangle Shirt Waist Company fire tragedy provided valuable lessons on what should and should not be done in industrial factories. It also became a rallying points for labor reforms leading to improved working conditions. Moreover it was an example of how capitalism can go wrong where emphasis is put solely in protecting ones property without minding the employees.
It has been the subject of many studies afterwards and even acted as a movie.