by Albert Marrin
published by Alfred A. Knopf
On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City burst into flames. The factory was crowded. The doors were locked to ensure workers stay inside. One hundred forty-six people—mostly women—perished; it was one of the most lethal workplace fires in American history until September 11, 2001.
But the story of the fire is not the story of one accidental moment in time. It is a story of immigration and hard work to make it in a new country, as Italians and Jews and others traveled to America to find a better life. It is the story of poor working conditions and greedy bosses, as garment workers discovered the endless sacrifices required to make ends meet. It is the story of unimaginable, but avoidable, disaster. And it the story of the unquenchable pride and activism of fearless immigrants and women who stood up to business, got America on their side, and finally changed working conditions for our entire nation, initiating radical new laws we take for granted today.
While this book does cover the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, that many pages are actually devoted to the fire itself. Instead, much of the focus rests on immigration and workers rights; two larger issues that have a great deal to do with the fire. Most of the workers who died in the fire were immigrant women, and unsafe working conditions are responsible for their deaths.
The legacy of the fire was a greater awareness of worker safety. Frances Perkins, a champion for workers' rights, was spurred into action by the fire. h eventually served as Secretary of the Department of Labor for FDR.
I have mixed feelings about the design. The size, shape, and heft of the book is somewhere between picture and coffee table book. The bright gold cover is attention grabbing, but the safety-orange end papers inside hurt my eyes. The text is large and is arranged in two columns per page with a lot of white space on the side. There are many great images included in the book, including several from Jacob Riis' groundbreaking 1890 work How the Other Half Lives.
Prominent figures like Perkins and Riis get extra coverage.
Back end materials include a bibliography, source notes, picture credits, and index. The notes are numbered in the text and organized by chapter at end. The clear organization, generous text size and spacing make them easy to use. The picture credits, on the other hand, are cramped into a small block. There's also no information about photographers.