Labor Studies Journal 27.3 (2002) 118-119
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The Triangle Fire
The Triangle Fire. By Leon Stein. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press, Cornell University Press, 2001. 224 pp. $15.95 paper.
The Triangle Fire is a classic among labor history books. It chronicles the tragedy and aftermath of the worst industrial fire in U.S. history. On March 25, 1911 a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City which resulted in the deaths of 146 mostly young, immigrant, female textile workers. This book chronicles the tragic events of that day and the subsequent investigation, litigation, and social reform efforts. This is a gripping and enthralling true story that depicts the abuse of workers by their employer and the neglect of worker protections by government until a tragedy occurred. At the same time it is testimony [End Page 118] to the heroism of many individuals who sought to save victims of this horrendous fire. In the end, however, The Triangle Fire illustrates that those who bear the real costs of industrial tragedies are the workers and their families and loved ones.
On the very first page Stein alerts us to the ominous and tragic nature of this horrible historic event. He dedicates his book "To No. 46, No. 50, No. 61, No. 95, No. 103, No. 115, and No. 127." Only later do we appreciate the significance of this dedication as those numbers represent the victims whose remains could not be identified by name. Sadly these are not the first or last workers to be unknown victims of industrial carnage.
Stein brings this chilling and damning tale to life in large part by skillfully weaving together the accounts of events from his various sources. In his Postscript Stein notes that he relied heavily on the memories of participants and on the news articles and trial transcripts of the time. And as William Grieder observes in his short but useful introduction to this new edition of the book, "Leon Stein tells this story in brilliant cinematic fashion. . . . You see the events directly, as if you were standing on the street outside the burning factory."
Greider's introduction also identifies the many culpable parties to this tragedy of nearly 100 years ago, and he connects this episode to similar events happening today in factories and workplaces around the globe. Also added to this edition of The Triangle Fire (originally published in 1962) are references to a website devoted to the Triangle fire (http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire) and another one devoted to sweatshop issues (http://www.behindthelabel.org).
This is a good book for labor studies courses and general reading. It reads like a novel, yet provides plenty of grist for discussion of diverse topics, such as, labor history, occupational safety, sweatshops, and immigrant labor. I assigned it as optional reading in a course on occupational safety and health and got good feed back from students who read it.
University of Wisconsin