It is hard to imagine it today, walking down Broadway towards Times Square, but from the late 1800’s until the 1930’s the garment trade was the largest and most vibrant trade in New York City. More people worked making clothes in New York City than doing anything else, and more clothes were manufactured in New York City than in any other city in the world.
The factories that produced those clothes were vast rooms of men, women, and children hunched over sewing machines. On March 11, 1911 a fire ripped through the ‘Triange Shirt Waist Company’ killing at least 145 workers, trapped inside a factory with doors chained shut. It was the deadliest workplace accident in New York Cityís history. Public opinion (aided by yellow journalism) set the stage for politicians to enact a system iof compulsory insurance providing benefits to injured workers and their dependents – thus creating the New York Workers’ Compensation Law – one of the first in the nation.
The story behind the tragedy that led to the law, dramatized into a movie “Triangle Fire,” airs on American Experience on PBS Feb. 28, 2011 at 9:00pm on most PBS stations.