Natural Disasters New York's Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Part 1

About the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City, account of the disasters, death, and destruction.



The sounds of bustling people and street traffic echoed through Manhattan's concrete canyons. It was Saturday afternoon, almost quitting time at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Scraps of material overflowed trash bins and cluttered the floors of the eighth- and ninth-story lofts jammed with row after row of sewing machines and perspiring young women.

Suddenly, on the eighth floor, a smoldering fire in a bin of fabric waste erupted into an angry red blaze. Before anyone could reach the bucket and the water barrel, hungry flames were leaping to stacks of material piled high on the cutting tables. In minutes the fire had appeased its monstrous appetite.

When: Saturday, Mar. 25, 1911, at 4:45 P. M.

Where: The 10-story Asch Building on the corner of Washington Place and Greene Street in New York City.

The Loss: A total of 145 lives and the top three floors of the Asch Building. Damage estimated in excess of $500,000.

The Disaster: Clotilda Terdanova reported for work Saturday morning as she did every other day of the week. That morning, however, her heart was light and she was smiling. In less than a week she would leave the Triangle Shirtwaist Company forever. She was in love and would soon be a June bride.

At the "start work" bell, hundreds of teenage girls changed into expressionless automatons, as mechanical as the machines they operated. As the day wore on, back, shoulder, and neck muscles demanded relief from the hours spent in an uncomfortable sedentary position. Finally, the long work day drew to a close.

Upon this signal, stoic faces relaxed. Bodies squirmed in their confined positions, anticipating a turn in the cramped washrooms. Scraps of material were everywhere, turning the floor into a many-hued carpet. It was in this warm, humid atmosphere full of tired girls that a bin of waste fabric burst into flame. A frightened young voice screamed, "Fire!" Everyone was suddenly of one mind--get out quickly.

For far too many, escape was impossible. The only passageway to the outer hall had to be negotiated single file. Once in the main hallway, the workers stampeded toward the elevators. Only one was in operation--its capacity, 12 passengers. The first dozen into the lift were the lucky ones. Those left--now breathing acrid smoke and desperate to escape the increasing heat--could not wait for the elevator's return.

This mass of humanity pushed and shoved toward the stairways that led to Greene Street and Washington Place. Locked doors had to give way before the battering ram of bodies. Down 33-in.-wide stairwells they tumbled, their terrified voices swelling in volume. At street level, the doors opened inward. There people piled on top of people.

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