Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Women and girl machine operators jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors in groups of twos and threes into life nets and their bodies spun downward from the high windows of the building so close together that the few nets soon were broken and the firemen and passersby who helped hold them were crushed to the pavement by the rain of falling bodies.

Within a few minutes after the first cry of fire had been yelled on the eighth floor of the building, fifty-three were lying half nude, on the pavement. Bare legs in some cases were burned a dark brown and waists and skirts in tatters showed that they had been torn in the panic within the building before the girls got to the windows to jump to death.

On the sidewalk lay heaps of broken bodies. A policeman later went about with tags, which he fastened with wires to the wrists of the dead girls, numbering each with a lead pencil, and I saw him fasten tag no. 54 to the wrist of a girl who wore an engagement ring. A fireman who came downstairs from the building told me that there were at least fifty bodies in the big room on the seventh floor. Another fireman told me that more girls had jumped down an air shaft in the rear of the building. I went back there, into the narrow court, and saw a heap of dead girls. . . .”

— William G. Shepard

On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company’s factory in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, which is believed to have started by a lit match or cigarette in a waste bin.

The fire quickly spread across paper sewing patterns and shirts hanging above the sewing tables.

More than 700 people were at work in the building at the time of the fire, 600 of whom were young, immigrant women between the ages of 16 and 23. The workers scrambled to find available exits, as the fire escapes were unsafe and many other exits were locked or blocked.