Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

Friday, March 25, 2011


In March of 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City caught fire on a late Saturday afternoon. Hundreds of workers were trapped on the upper floors, crammed onto a fire escape or piled out on the roof waiting for the horse drawn fire engines to arrive. All in all, one hundred and forty six people fell or jumped to their death or died in the fire. As we investigate charges of bias in public radio, we thought it might be useful to consider an earlier era when, according to David Von Drehle, author of "Triangle: The Fire That Changed America," politics and prejudice were an overt influence on the news.

Comments [14]

Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I first learned of this crime in about 1974, while still in my development of a coherent political philosophy for myself and this incident crystallized for me on which side I was. The son of two self-employed, independent business owners and nephew of a millionaire, spending weekends on a Westchester estate with African-American servants, world renowned artists, friends from Franco's Spain, & a real life genius, polio-struck cyborg and I ended up siding with the garment workers union.

Tom Hartmann reported today that conservatives are seeking the private emails of university-based labor historians to monitor (and no doubt censor) what they are teaching their students. Before too long, with the way the petty tyrants are going, Howard Zinn's book will be all there's left to a peoples' history of the U.S.

Apr. 01 2011 04:04 AM
Lis from MA

Interesting story, but really made me want to know what kind of coverage the Triangle Fire got in the Yiddish press.

Mar. 30 2011 08:02 PM
Listener from NY

Thank you for the different perspective of why we remember this one tragedy apart from all the others of the period. This fire occurred during the perfect political storm of Democrat Party machine power, growing socialist ideology and a sensationalist media all focused on a real social injustice that shocked the public and all eager to wave the bloody frocks of the Triangle victims to advance their own disparate agendas. It is remarkable that after a century and the massive accumulation of money, power and influence in the labor movement, they and politicians hungry for contributions divide up other working people's borrowed money in amounts that would astonish the most rapacious Robber Baron. Reform was desperately needed in 1911 however we should recognize in 2011 that reforms are needed for the benefit of those in 2111. Those 1911 workers created the American Century for us and it is our obligation to maintain reforms but not squander their sacrifice in this century.

Mar. 30 2011 01:54 PM
Robert Adamson from Chicago Suburbs

I agree with the comment by Shawn Adams, but I'd like to add one Caveat: The author asserted that it was not such a problem back in 1916 to have all of the diverse media sources because people were more media savvy and knew what the publishers were "up to" in terms of having an unacknowledged bias.
I find that hard to believe and would like to know how the Author arrived at this conclusion. My fear is that people at that time were just as polarized or disillusioned by media as they are today. And that we are perhaps for the first time either going to jump that hurdle or watch society disintegrate instead.

Mar. 29 2011 01:32 PM

An anniversary comes, and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire hits the news. In a few hours or days it will be gone, buried along many other workplace disasters which have never been commemorated. A radical Republican governor of Maine erases labor history in a government building in the form of murals and the naming of conference rooms. Labor history has been largely air-brushed out of school text-books, creating generations of Americans who have no clue how hard-won are their rights as employees, and how easily they are being lost.

If it's not too scared to be perceived as liberal - a big if - some public radio organization (NPR, APM, anybody) should put together a regular program dedicated to labor issues, as a token counterbalance to the extensive coverage of the corporate and business sectors.

Mar. 28 2011 11:08 AM
Monte Haun from Bulls Gap, TN

[1] "Posted by: paul cook March 25, 2011 - 09:52PM

"As we investigate charges of bias in public radio, "...

Sure. conservatives enjoy, no they delight, in workers jumping to their deaths. It makes us warm and fuzzy. We celebrate workers death and we smile at the efforts to keep the lowly worker safe.

Could you be more offensive in your reporting OTM?"

The wreckage of the eight years of the Runt Bush's reign tells the story most eloquently. Agencies defunded, underfunded, unstaffed plus the little prick personally intervened to forbid warning pregnant women of the dangers of eating Tuna.

And don't forget the scumbag Cheney's finesse of responsibility for causing the slow, lingering, painful deaths of trusting workers and Citizens of his little Company Town.

Oh, for a Roosevelt or a Kennedy that couldn't be stifled by the Kabal's Media, thundering from the mountain top,"You will no longer feed your greed out of the sustenance of sick babies and the old nor leaven your bread with the blood of decent workers or sneer at there pain".

Small comfort, but at least you Rats are beginning to feel the heat and like all cornered vermin are scrambling for any hole to crawl out of.

Even Irony, Ha-ha-ha!

Monte Haun

Mar. 27 2011 04:54 PM
Monte Haun from Bulls Gap, TN

"Such tragedies (as the Triangle Fire) are not limited to the pre-OSHA period. In 1991, more than twenty years after the adoption of OSHA (and 80 years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire-mchaun), twenty-five workers died in a fire at the Imperial Poultry plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. One reason for the high death toll was that their employer had locked the doors on suspicion they were taking chicken parts home from work"

Monte Haun

Mar. 27 2011 03:53 PM
Robert from NYC

Why did you feel it necessary to say the workers were "mostly Jewish"? So were the owners of the shop. What's the significance of that?

Mar. 27 2011 10:47 AM
Michael A. Bertolone, M.S. from Rochester, NY

We are well on our way back to a time of extreme employee exploitation, and the Tea Party wing of the Republican is, unfortunately, the leading edge of our current race to the bottom regarding labor law.

Witness recent attacks on organized labor in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere. Once unions have been completely neutralized, I fear we will see disasters of this magnitude as companies try to squeeze every penny of profit out of the wages paid.

Demagogues such as Gov. Scott Walker and others can't wait to do the bidding of billionaire supporters in rolling back collective bargaining rights. In Rush Limbaugh's home state of Missouri, as well as Utah, certain GOP lawmakers think it's a good idea to repeal child labor laws, many of which date back a century to the time of the Triangle fire. If this movement gains momentum, it won't be long before we have another greed-related tragedy such as this one.

It's an absolute disgrace.

Mar. 27 2011 04:14 AM
George Viglirolo from Brookline, MA

"Most of the Triangle workers, who ranged in age from 15 to 23, were Italian or European Jewish immigrants."

Mar. 26 2011 10:31 PM
Shawn Adams from Chicago

The author's observations that late 20th century journalism was "down the middle" was a result of broadcast bandwidth's scarisity and that we can look forward to publishers producing biased reports going forward are valuable. He says we should pay attention to the source of the media we use; this is a timeless message. Would anyone question the pratice of considering the source of the food we consume?
Using the Triangle Fire story to illustrate how media coverage impacts society is an appropriate example.
Thank you for the story.

Mar. 26 2011 08:02 PM
joxl akavaka from Tanzania

I’m a 60’s progressive. We had little use for liberals back in the 60s.

The folks that say NPR has a liberal bias are not basing it on facts, info and anything other than their own bias. These are the same people who said McCain was “dangerously moderate.” These are the folks who were interviewed by BBC in the spring of 2010 and told the journalist that the only source of news they trusted, the only really objective channel, was Fox.

It is less about news than attitude. Unlike Fox, NPR does not dumb down. NPR plays jazz. Can a real patriotic American trust any broadcaster that plays jazz? And there’s “Tell Me More” which has a lot of features on minorities. You don’t hear/see programs about minorities on Fox, do you? And then there’s Ira Glass. He’s probably more of a secular socialist than President Obama (Bill O’Reilly’s label). You can’t trust the pointy-headed intellectuals at NPR.

So as Brooke said, you do your job as journalist the best you can. -joxl akavaka Tanzania

Mar. 26 2011 10:19 AM
M Stone-Richard from VA Beach

Saying it's so doesn't make it so, Paul. You might want to reflect on the degree of your listening bias.

Mar. 26 2011 08:12 AM
paul cook

"As we investigate charges of bias in public radio, "...

Sure. conservatives enjoy, no they delight, in workers jumping to their deaths. It makes us warm and fuzzy. We celebrate workers death and we smile at the efforts to keep the lowly worker safe.

Could you be more offensive in your reporting OTM?

Mar. 25 2011 09:52 PM

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