103 years ago today...a New York tragedy that paved the way to labor reforms

On Saturday, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory, where the workers were mostly women and young girls, many of them immigrants.

Firemen raced to the scene, but the ladders weren’t tall enough to reach the upper floors of the10-story building where workers were trapped inside because the factory owners had locked the exit doors to prevent them from taking unauthorized breaks, like going to them bathroom.

With no way out and the fire raging, many of the women began to jump to their deaths. By the time the fire was finally put out, 146 workers had lost their lives.

This tragedy spurred a wave of activism in the budding labor movement. The day after the fire, 15,000 garment workers walked off the job, demanding a 20 percent pay hike, a 52-hour workweek and overtime pay. The fight for labor reforms continued and legislation was eventually passed protecting laborers. 

Every anniversary of the fire, volunteers from the Chalk Project visit each one of the known victim's houses and writes her or his name and age in chalk on the sidewalk.


You can visit the site of the fire, which occurred in what was the Asch Building, at 23–29 Washington Place in Greenwich Village. It's now known as the Brown Building and part of New York University's campus.  The building has been designated a National and New York City landmark. On the corner of the building at the intersection of Washington and Greene, you can see a memorial plaque.