New-York Historical Society

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, 100th Anniversary

Next Friday, March 25th, is the 100th anniversary of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The deadly fire prompted the creation of new fire safety and building codes and galvanized the labor movement.

For a full list of events around the city and the nation related to the memory of the fire and the women who perished go to rememberthetrianglefire.org.

Firemen battling the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, 1911. (Frederick Hugh Smyth Collection of Fire Photographs)

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire is just one of many conflagrations captured by Frederick H. Smyth, who made a hobby of taking and collecting photographs of New York City fires.

In addition to documenting other notable fires — such as the 1912 Equitable Building Fire, and the ruins of the 1911 fire at the Dreamland amusement park in Coney Island — the Frederick Hugh Smyth Collection of Fire Photographs provides an invaluable record of the transition from horse-drawn to motorized fire equipment.

An early motorized fire engine. (Frederick Hugh Smyth Collection of Fire Photographs)

The Triangle Shirtwaist fire occurred at a critical juncture in this transition. Just nine days before the fire broke out, on March 16, 1911, the New York Fire Department tested the first gasoline-propelled automobile fire engine in the country. So successful was the test that the New York Times pronounced it to be “the death knell of the horse in the fire department” — a prediction that came true in December of 1922, when New York City retired its last horse-drawn fire engine.

Of course, no one foresaw that a week later the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist fire would be the death knell of 146 garment workers — much less that people would still be commemorating the fire and its repercussions 100 years later.

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