Two Factory Workers, c. 1912
Suggested Teaching Instructions
Factory life was harsh and treacherous. Factory owners largely ignored safety regulations and working conditions in their factories. With no legislative body overseeing the many industries, workers toiled in inhumane and deadly conditions. In Monongahela, West Virginia, in 1908, a major accident caused by the lack of safety inspections and regulations killed 354 coal miners in a single day.
Conditions were appalling here in New York as well. In New York City in 1911, a major fire in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory killed 146 people, mainly women. This tragedy occurred when a fire broke out in the factory, which occupied the top three floors of a ten-story building. Although the workers panicked, the people on the eighth and tenth floors were able to escape. But workers on the ninth floor were trapped by illegally blocked exits. A few days later, a massive funeral parade was held throughout the city. Within a week of this tragedy, a fire broke out in the Albany Capitol Building, destroying many important state documents and artifacts.
These two events had a major impact on fire and safety regulations. New York State formed a Factory Investigating Commission to inspect factories in all the major cities of New York. The committee was charged with finding fire hazards, unsanitary conditions, and occupational diseases, and with inspecting tenements. This committee inspected 3,385 locations in 1911 and 1912, including meat packaging plants, bakeries, clothing manufacturers, chemical plants, and lead trade manufacturing plants.