As you walked by the Brown Building next to Silver in the past few weeks, you may have noticed the flowers placed in long rows in front of its doors. The Brown Building, located on the the corner of Washington Pl. and Green St., was once known as the Asch Building and the top three floors housed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.
The Brown Building at NYU
These flowers were placed to remember the 145 workers who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25, 1911. The factory was a sweatshop where mostly young immigrant girls and women worked long hours in unsafe, brutal conditions. There was only one working elevator and the workers were locked inside the factory during the day.
This would become extremely problematic on the day of the fire.
Although some were able to get out of the building, 145 others were left to burn, suffocate, or jump from the windows to impending death below. It was all over in 18 minutes.
NYU’s article, “Traces of an American Tragedy,” claims that an NYU faculty member and his students were able to save about 50 factory workers. When they realized that there was a fire, the students stretched out ladders from the Silver Center, then called the Main Building, to allow some workers to cross to safety.
The remnants of the factory after being ravaged by fire.
What makes this so fucked up is that this tragedy seems so avoidable if only the owners of the factory had been concerned less with money and more with the safety of their workers. However, this fire set in motion a series of changes in the factory world and gave workers the ammunition they needed to get better working conditions. Nearly 80,000 people attended a protest demanding better conditions in the wake of the fire. In the following years, steps were taken to improve conditions including requirements for working sprinklers and fire escapes which are now enforced by the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration (OSHA).
Although this was a such an awful and deadly event, it it pretty amazing that we, as NYU students, get to be part of this critical part of history. Next time you slowly make your way up or down the stairs of NYU’s Silver Center or Brown Building, throwing some elbows to get by and inevitably getting a door shoved in your face, take a moment to remember the dark history behind this building. Keep an eye out for the fire extinguishers, alarms, and sprinkler systems which were installed largely due to the events that occurred and the lives lost on March 25, 1911.
History.com Staff. “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 01 Jan. 2009. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.
“Occupational Safety and Health Administration.” United States Department of Labor. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016
Reynolds, E. “Traces of an American Tragedy: Inside the Former Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.” New York University, 19 Mar. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2016