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Tragedy at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory


Last week, on March 25, 1911, a horrific fire broke out on the eighth floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The workers at this factory were predominantly immigrant women, many of them quite young. Reports are still coming in, but it appears that about 140 of the 600-some workers have died, either from the fire or from their desperate attempts to escape by leaping out of the factory windows.

It is not known yet how the fire started, but it may have been from a lit match or a cigarette. While the factory itself is quite modern, and is believed to be fireproof, the rooms themselves were a deathtrap – the rooms were full of shirtwaists and cloth scraps which easily caught on fire, and the room was so crammed with sewing machines that there was scarcely room for the workers to move around.

Most of the deaths appear to have been from the workers on the ninth floor – while most of those on the eighth floor escaped, the ninth floor were not warned in time of the danger. Survivors have said that one of the two staircases was locked by the management, and the elevator had stopped working. Although firemen arrived promptly and worked desperately to put out the fire and to save the workers trapped inside the building, their efforts were not enough; their ladders did not reach higher than the sixth floor. Many of the poor workers had no option other than to leap from the floor to the pavement below, more than seven floors below them.

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