The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Project Notes

In 1911, The Triangle Waist Company was largest shirtwaist company in New
York City. During its peak season, it could produce upwards of 2,000 garments
a day, resulting in a million dollars of waists per year and making its
owners, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, extremely wealthy. In fact, the Triangle was
just one of a group of factories owned by Harris & Blanck.

The factory occupied the top three floors of the Asch Building – a ten story loft
structure located at the corner of Washington Place and Greene Streets, just east
of Washington Square Park. Considered at the time to be among the most upto-
date and modern of factories, Triangle employed as many as 500 workers a
da, the vast majority of whom were young immigrant women. They functioned as
finishers and button punchers, pressers and lace inserters, runners and bookkeepers,
but most of them operated the sewing machines. Row upon row of

On the eighth floor were the cutters who skillfully placed the waist patterns on
the layers of lawn piled thick on the cutting tables. They used special knives to
cut through the fabric and create the pieces to be sewn into garments. The cutters
were all men and they were at the top of the pecking order. A skilled cutter
could demand the highest wages. Also on the eighth floor were five long tables
of sewing machines and the finishing tables where lace was inserted into the
shirtwaists and the threads clipped. Around 200 workers worked on the eighth

On the ninth floor was where most of the sewing was done. Eight long 75 foot
tables stretched across the loft space. Each table held about 30 machines and
the women sat along the tables side by side sewing from 7:30 in the morning
6:00 or 7:00 in the evening (later during the busy season). Elbow to elbow they
worked. Large wicker baskets full of the never ending stackes of pieces they were
to fit together were crowded between their chairs. The girls sitting furthest down
the rows had to climb over chairs and baskets if they wanted to get out during
the day. Talking was not allowed during work time and the floorladies and the
formen would see to it that the workers followed the rules and kept their production
up. Because of the never ending supply of willing workers, those who
didn’t behave were dismissed. Also on the ninth floor in the rear towards the air
shaft were the examining tables. About 250 workers worked on the ninth floor.
On the tenth floor was the pressing, packing, shipping areas and administrative
offices. Mr. Blanck and Mr. Harris had their own offices. The showroom, where
the Triangle salesmen would occasionally stop by to pick up the latest samples
or bring a particularly important buyer, was located in the brightest corner of the
floor where Washington Place and Greene Street met. Around 60 workers worked
on the tenth floor.

Although life at the Triangle was gruling, many of the women who worked there
found a way of enjoying themselves. Many liked the fact that they were among
their own set, they made close friends and had a certain sense of independence.
The wages they made often meant the difference between survival and destitution
for their families.