The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Sparked Major Changes in Labor Laws and Worker Safety

A horrific factory fire claimed the lives of 146 workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in NYC

On March 25, 1911, a horrific factory fire claimed the lives of 146 workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York City. Those lost included 123 women and girls as young as 14 years old, as well as 23 men.  They were earning between $7 and $12 for a 52-hour work week. The lives of these predominantly Italian and Jewish immigrants were lost because the factory’s exit doors were locked causing them to succumb to fire, smoke inhalation or from jumping to their deaths from the factory’s 8th, 9th, and 10th floors. Much has changed since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire thanks to a compassionate government, along with labor leaders and activists who paved the way for new legislation to protect working men and women.

33 New Labor Laws

Following the funeral procession for deceased factory workers, which drew over 350,000 people, activists began lobbying local and state elected officials to pass legislation in support of worker safety and health. Their efforts drove the creation of new laws which empowered the Factory Investigating Committee.  As a result, eight more laws covering areas of fire safety, factory inspections, sanitation and employment rules for women and children were introduced.

In 1912, New York State activists and legislators initiated 25 modern labor laws, providing significant workers’ health and safety protections. Decades later, in 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was passed. OSHA’s primary mission is “to ensure that employees carry out their tasks under safe working conditions.”

The Amalgamated Family’s Long History in Supporting Labor and Honoring the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Victims

Along with ushering in much needed labor protection laws, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire also led to the founding of our organization, Amalgamated Life Insurance Company. At the time of the fire, our founder, Sidney Hillman, was an emerging labor leader. He held roles as a rank-and-file strike leader and business agent for a local of the United Garment Workers. He, like many others, was profoundly affected by the fire and vowed to defend and advocate for garment workers and subsequently formed the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. It stood out as a nontraditional union in its prioritization of its members’ well-being and best interests above all.

Sidney Hillman led many other important initiatives which earned him prominent roles under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration. They included his appointment to the Labor Advisory Board and National Industrial Recovery Board. Additionally, he was instrumental in the drafting of the National Labor Relations Act and the enactment of the Labor Standards Act. He held roles in the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the formation of the Textile Workers Union of America and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Workers Union of America.

In 1943, Sidney Hillman founded our flagship company, Amalgamated Life Insurance Company. To this day, our mission reflects his dedication to working people.  Amalgamated Life is committed to helping working people and their families achieve financial security by providing affordable life, health, and pension products; which we have since expanded to include voluntary benefits.  Our robust product portfolio and related services support our mission through our family of companies which includes employee benefits administration, medical care management services, property and casualty insurance, and printing and communications services.

Continued Support for the Triangle Fire Coalition

Each year, the Amalgamated Family of Companies demonstrates it ongoing support for America’s working people and shares in the remembrance of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Factory victims. We have continued to provide substantial contributions which has earned our name being placed on the Triangle Fire Memorial donors’ plaque which is affixed to the east façade of the Brown Building in New York City’s Greenwich Village, where the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory once existed. Our executives and employees have attended many of the commemorative ceremonies led by the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition. It is our way of both remembering the victims and also honoring the legacy of our founder, Sidney Hillman.

Just as Sidney Hillman would have wanted, members of our executive team will be in attendance Monday, March 25, 2024, to support and keep alive the memory of those lost in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.