U.S. Department of Labor


While the firefighters got the blaze under control in about 30 minutes, the destruction and devastation burned into the American public’s mind. Factory owners Harris and Blanck remained resistant to change and apparently impervious to the outcries of the pubic and the anguish of the survivors, the victims and their families. Harris and Blanck opened another factory a few days later and it was deemed to have no fire escape and inadequate exits. Defense attorney Max Steuer successfully defended the men during their trial in New York City for manslaughter by casting enough doubt on the key factor in the trial – Did Harris and Blanck know the exits were locked? The trial lasted 23 days and had 150 witnesses. Three years later, after several civil trials, the men settled at a rate of $75 per life. An insurance policy, however, paid Harris and Blanck about $400 per life lost. The men pocketed about $60,000 by the end of the ordeal. Over the next few years, the men were cited and fined numerous times for locking exit doors during business hours.

While Harris and Blanck remained unchanged, things began to change in the American workforce. One could believe that the Department of Labor’s seeds sprouted that day. The fire ignited people’s interest in workers’ safety, in fair wages, in establishing dignity for America’s working men and women.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of the nation’s most deadly and horrific, led to some of the nation’s strongest changes in worker safety in the manufacturing industry. From the ashes of tragedy rose the phoenix of reform.

New York City and New York State, over the next few years, adopted the country's strongest worker safety protection laws. Initially addressing fire safety, these laws eventually became model legislation for the rest of the country and state after stated enacted much more strict worker safety laws.

Undated photo of Isaac Harris (left) and Max Blanck, owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

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