Triangle by David Von Drehle

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: This is why we have fire safety requirements.

Quick synopsis: The story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. It is one of the worst industrial disasters in the history of the US and one of the main reasons for a lot of major reforms.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: 146 people died during the fire. One of the main reasons was because one of the owners locked the doors to keep everyone in. He even did it AGAIN after the fire.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: One of the biggest shifts politically was the view of Tammany Hall. Long seen as merely a corrupt political contraption (they were), their leaders took on the cause of reform based partly on the Triangle Fire.

My Take: The book is great; the event was horrific.

The factory conditions were beyond belief. The factory was on three separate floors which did not have any way to quickly communicate (there was a phone by it didn’t have a way to contact one of the floors). There was no real fire prevention. Doors were locked to keep the workers from sneaking out. There was a fire escape, but it was put in because the owners refused to put in a third stairwell in the building.

The fire started. The foreman with the keys ran out without unlocking the doors. The fire escape collapsed. The 9th floor had no idea what was happening. People started jumping from the windows. Yes, shades of 9/11.

This book is two different stories. The first is the fire as a disaster story. The second is what happened after which is partially heartening, but also with a lot of frustrations and lack of justice.

Read it.

Verdict: Great book and very important in understanding a major event in labor reform.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Stewart O’Nan, The Circus Fire
  • Denise Gess, William Lutz, Firestorm at Peshtigo
  • Daniel Brown, Under a Flaming Sky
  • Kate Moore, The Radium Girls
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Triangle by David Von Drehle
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