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Qwiz5 Quizbowl Essentials - Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the 8th floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The company’s owners had locked exit doors to prevent worker theft, but the locked doors trapped the workers and prevented escape. As a result, 146 workers died - some from the fire and some from leaping to their death in one of the deadliest industrial accidents in U.S. history. After the fire, reformers led by Frances Perkins and the International Ladies Garment Workers Union championed workplace safety legislation that forever changed working conditions in the U.S.

By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.


Two years before the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, workers at the factory played a pivotal role in a city-wide strike of garment workers known as the “Uprising of the 20,000”. The strike strengthened the power of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). After the fire, the ILGWU led the charge for workplace safety reforms.


The fire started in a scrap fabric bin on the 8th floor of the Asch Building in New York City. Today, the Asch Building is a part of the campus of New York University (NYU).


Isaac Harris and Max Blanck were the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. After the fire, they were indicted for manslaughter, but during the trial, Max Steur, their defense attorney, was able to earn an acquittal for the pair by attacking the credibility of testimony of Kate Alterman, one of the survivors.


Frances Perkins was active in the call for improving working conditions prior to the fire. After the fire, she investigated causes of the accident and spearheaded legislation to prevent future workplace accidents. She later served as FDR’s Secretary of Labor, becoming the first woman to serve on the cabinet.


Rose Schneiderman was a prominent labor organizer. After the fire, she gave an impassioned speech to those gathered at a memorial held at the New York Metropolitan Opera House where she criticized the lack of progress in the labor movement by saying, “I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled.” Her speech is credited by many as spurring the reforms that came after the fire.


Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:

* Read an account of the fire from Smithsonian Magazine here.

* Read about the efforts to preserve the memory of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire by building a memorial on the Asch Building here.

* The Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast did an episode on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. Listen here:

* A man who lost three relatives in the accident recalls the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.


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