[MUSIC PLAYING] CURTIS LYONS: There was a lot of cloth there, a lot of oil, the sewing machine oil. And these were three floors that were packed full with sewing machines. So full that people who had visited it claimed it was very hard to get around in normal circumstances, much less when people were trying to get away from the fire.
The mission of the Kheel Center, the archives of Cornell's IRL School, is to document the American workplace. As part of that mission, we have collected and made available through the web, information on the Triangle Factory fire, one of the worst industrial tragedies in the history of the United States.
On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers, mostly young immigrant women, were killed by a combination of fire and unsafe work conditions in the top three floors of the Asch Building near Washington Park in Manhattan. This included 62 workers, who bystanders watched leap from the 9th floor windows in a desperate effort to escape the smoke and flames.
On the 9th floor, the door to the stairwell had been locked. Workers and prosecutors contended that the doors had been locked by the owners in an effort to keep the workers from leaving early or stealing materials during their shift. Despite this, the owners were found innocent of all wrongdoing at their trial.
PATRICIA MOSCOSO: While the Triangle Fire tragedy resulted in no legal repercussions, its national impact was tremendous. The outrage sent thousands of new members into the fledgling US labor movement. Labor reform measures were passed in many states and urban centers. And safety and fire regulations were rewritten or in many cases written for the first time all across the nation.
CURTIS LYONS: The records held in the Kheel Center and made available through the Triangle Fire website chronicle this event and its aftermath using original documents, photographs, trial transcripts, and oral histories.
The Kheel Center's Triangle Fire website received almost 29 million hits last year as teachers and students all over the world used its primary sources for their historical research. The site is widely recognized as the definitive source of information on this tragedy.
PATRICIA MOSCOSO: The best measurement of the impact of the Triangle Fire is its continued study by students, researchers, journalists, documentary makers, poets, and artists. Several organizations, including labor unions, arts organizations, and the New York City Fire Department, participate in annual commemorative events in New York City.
Researchers continue to scour newspapers and records in an effort to uncover the identities of the six still unidentified victims. Scholars study the trial as one of the first examples of the modern US legal process.
CURTIS LYONS: We have read wonderful feedback on the website from students who discover a new appreciation for research, history, and the great loss and sacrifice of these workers. We believe this interest endures because in the eyes of many the fire captures the worst and the best of society under capitalism, the sweatshops and the locked doors, but also the opportunity to protest, learn, and reform.
I'm a big fan of the trial transcripts just because there is so much information in there. It's easy to talk to people who have a strong opinion one way or the other about this. But when you get into the trial transcripts, then you see exactly what people knew at the time, exactly what the owners knew at the time. The more you get into it, the more you see the actual details. That's where you are able to really reach your own conclusions, which is really what the research is all about.
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On March 25, 1911, a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City killed 146 garment workers on the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors of the building. The door to the only stairwell leading from the ninth floor was locked (allegedly by the owners, to prevent workers from leaving early), and the tallest ladders of the New York Fire Department trucks would only reach the sixth floor. The Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives shares its collection relating to the tragedy.