December 28, 2015
By Stephanie West, LaborPress NY
Albany, NY – New York State is contributing $1.5 million to help build a memorial to the 146 people who died in the historic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911 in Manhattan. The memorial will be affixed to the Greenwich Village building where the fire occurred, just off Washington Square Park and now used by New York University, to house biology and chemistry laboratories.
The fire broke out on Saturday, March 25, 1911, at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and though it lasted only half an hour, it forever changed government's role in protecting working men and women. The clothing manufacturing company was located in a building touted as fireproof. The conditions in the factory were known to be hazardous, and operators had been warned many times. Management refused to install sprinklers and arranged the workspace for maximum production output – not for safety.
The fire killed 146 workers and remains the deadliest industrial disaster in New York State history and one of the deadliest in the United States. Most of the dead were teenage girls – garment workers who perished because there was no safe way for them to escape the inferno. They were trapped on the top three floors of a 10-story building that had defective fire escapes and doors that opened inward. Despite this tragic loss of life, the factory was back in business three days later in another location in the building. The owners, who escaped the fire unharmed, showed little remorse and quickly returned their attention to making a profit. The building that housed the factory still stands today, and its legacy continues to drive us in our quest for worker protection and safety.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire galvanized the labor movement in America and should never be forgotten," Governor Cuomo said. "New York State has always been a beacon for progressive government policies and while we honor the victims' legacy with this memorial, we must continue to improve workplace protections to ensure tragedies like this one are never repeated."
The memorial is being built by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. Following a design competition, in 2013 the Coalition selected architectural designer Richard Joon Yoo and Cooper Union architecture professor Uri Wegman, to design the memorial.