A building near Manhattan’s Washington Square is the current home of New York University’s science labs, but a little more than a century ago, it was the site of one of the nation’s worst workplace disasters – and there’s a movement afoot to make sure that history is not forgotten.
A group called Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition is trying to raise $2.4 million to build a memorial to the 1911 factory fire that killed 146 workers from among the mostly vulnerable segment of society. The victims were mostly women, mostly young and mostly immigrants. Many jumped to their deaths from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory’s upper floors in order to escape the blaze that roared through the sewing area, feeding on flammable cloth.
Factory managers had locked doors to prevent workers from taking breaks, preventing many people from getting out of the building in time.
From the group's website:
"The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory memorial, designed by Richard Joon Yoo and Uri Wegman, will feature graceful steel panels that will engage passers-by both up-close and from afar. Steel panels will curve around both sides of the building, with the names of victims cut into an upper panel and reflected onto a lower one."
A description of the tragedy would also be included.
The fire and its tremendous toll outraged New Yorkers. It gave rise to numerous safety reforms, like requirements for automatic sprinklers and for fire drills. It also prompted the formation of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), which began as the United Association of Casualty Inspectors.
The coalition is comprised of labor activists, safety advocates and descendants of people who were killed in the fire.