Labor Day History Lesson

We can thank labor unions for our day off of work and the afternoon barbecues today, Labor Day.  While enjoying our weekend, the PA team began to discuss just how important labor unions have been in the fashion industry.  So, with that in mind, we wanted to share a little history behind one union in particular that started in 1911 after a devastating industrial fire in a garment factory in New York.  As you read this story, consider the broad scope of what unions have done to improve the conditions and wages of labor standards and practices over the last century.

On March 25, 1911, a tragic fire struck the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City, and to this day it is considered to be one of the largest industrial disasters in the country’s history.  The fire killed a total of 146 women who either died in flames, from asphyxiation, or jumping from windows to escape.

The managers locked the doors and stairwells of the building so that employees would not steal linens from the factory.  As a result, the workers, almost all of whom were women, searched for a way out.  They jumped through windows on the 9th and 10th floors that the firetruck ladders could not reach.

Most of the 500 women employed by the garment factory were young immigrant women who worked long days 6 days a week.  Eyewitnesses reported seeing the horror of the women jump from the burning building.  One reported watching a man and woman kiss at the window before jumping to their death.  By the time help arrived, they had a difficult time setting up ladders because of all of the bodies surrounding the building, one report indicated.

Though the exact cause of the fire is unknown, there are a number of speculations, including cigarette ashes, a sewing machine malfunction, and others.  What is known is that a scrap of fabric caught fire, and the fire quickly spread.  There was no alarm system to alert the other women in the factory.

The fire prompted the fight for legislation requiring improved factory safety standards.  Most importantly, it inspired organization and was the pivotal event that led to the formation of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, which fought for better and safer working conditions for sweatshop workers in that industry.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was located inside the Asch Building, now known as the Brown Building of Science. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark and a New York City landmark.

Help is on the way for the garment factory.


0 Responses to “Labor Day History Lesson”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Project Artisan Blog Contributors

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 18 other followers

More From Project Artisan

Blog Posts


%d bloggers like this: