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Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  4,911 Ratings  ·  435 Reviews
On March 25, 1911, as workers were getting ready to leave for the day, a fire broke out in the Triangle shirtwaist factory in New York's Greenwich Village. Within minutes it spread to consume the building's upper three stories. Firemen who arrived at the scene were unable to rescue those trapped inside: their ladders simply weren't tall enough. People on the street watched ...more
Published (first published August 1st 2003)
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Posted at Shelf Inflicted

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America is a moving and riveting account of the Triangle fire of March 25, 1911, the deadliest workplace disaster in New York City for 90 years. It destroyed the lives of 146 workers, the majority of them young immigrant women.

The author successfully brings to life the period before, during, and after the fire. He looks at the social and economic conditions of the time, working conditions in the garment industry, and the labor movement th
OK, do you really want the truth....... I feel I ought to like this book. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. BUT, but, but I was not all that engaged! Why?

There were too many people to get engaged with any one of them.

It read like a textbook, at least in parts.

This is a book about politics and labor unions, and this topic always annoys me. Improvements are made when it pays in the ballot box.

Every individual is thoroughly reviewed so that the reader completely understands why they make
We might grumble and complain about long work weeks, commuter traffic, an aloof boss, catty coworkers, inadequate perks, and/or uncomfortable working conditions such as non-ergonomic furnishings/equipment or privacy invasive cubicle farms. But none of that compares to dismal, deplorable conditions and starvation salary eighty-hour work weeks in factories during the early twentieth century. And it certainly doesn’t compare to lack of labor-reform laws judiciously/equitably enforced, that could ha ...more
Virginia Messina
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, disasters
A fascinating read. It’s not just the story of the fire, but also describes historical trends--NYC politics and the labor movement—that preceded and followed the fire. There is some great historical detail here and von Drehle is a wonderful writer. The fire and its immediate aftermath are heartbreaking and so is the list of the dead at the end of the book. Highly recommended.

Feb 16, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Triangle tells the story of the devastating 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York. Von Drehle (who writes for the Washington Post, my favorite newspaper), tells about the tragedy, but also puts the fire in its historical context - touching on issues ranging from the labor movement, immigration, anarchy, Tammany Hall, corrupt courts, and how FDR got his start in politics. It is well written and easy to follow. Surprisingly (at least to me, who had heard this fire referenced bef ...more
Dec 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Unbeknownst to me International Women's Day 2013 would take place while I was reading this book. Last month I read "Hellhound on His Trail" during MLK day and this month this history of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire which ultimately ushered improved workplace conditions and workweek hours. I'm on a roll!!!

The changes were largely brought about by women like Frances Perkins who became the first woman ever to hold a cabinet post, Secretary of Labor, under FDR and by the Women's Trade Union
Dec 05, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclub, nonfiction
1.5 stars - I didn't like it.

A most tedious read. I hate when authors take material that is most appropriate for a newspaper article, and then stretch it out to reach book length in size. This gives nonfiction books a bad name. I also find that most journalists turned authors tend to write overly detailed books that read like textbooks without a compelling or engaging narrative. This was no exception.

The author also included completely irrelevant random facts (to stretch out the length I suspec
What an incredibly sad book. I recently visited the 9/11 Museum in New York City and we were discussing how it must have been the worst decision in the world for those who were trapped in the towers to decide: Would I prefer to die by burning or jumping to my death? Which would happen faster? Which would be the least painful? And making that decision in a matter of minutes or even seconds. Many at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory faced the same decision. Some of the survivors even witnessed this ...more
Sep 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The great garment district fire of 1911 killed 146 people in Lower Manhattan. This was the greatest workplace loss of life for decades before and 90 years after, until 9/11/2001.

The average factory loft (today converted into a swanky condo) was 10 or 11 stories, meaning four floors beyond the reach of the highest hook and ladder. Fire escapes were grossly inadequate and no-smoking rules usually ignored. Scrap heaps beneath each work table provided a highly combustible matrix--and cotton is incr
Feb 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well researched holistic account not only of the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 in which 146 workers were killed, but also of what lead to the fire and what were it's long term historic repercussions. Von Drehle does a masterful job of creating the environment in New York City of not only the tenements and factories in which many of the workers lived and worked, but also the political environment - Tammany Hall, the Women's Trade Union League and the Consumer League which were ...more
Kate Lynn
Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, own, thesis
After reading Leon Stein's book, this is the next work over the Triangle Fire that should be read. Von Drehle takes the story Stein first told and goes deeper into the layers behind the event. Without bogging down readers, he discusses important figures like Charles Murphy and Frances Perkins. He even discusses Max Steuer who was the lawyer for Max Blanck and Issac Harris during the trial after the fire. The story of the judge and his probable opinions on the trial is also fascinating.

By far th
Aaron Million
Feb 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Terrible and tragic story about a long-forgotten factory fire that resulted in 146 people, mostly women and mainly immigrants, dying gruesome deaths. This happened during an era when workers had few rights, few safety precautions, and few means of recourse against their employers if they were treated poorly. Unions were just beginning to gain strength, but not nearly enough to obtain needed safety reforms. While pundits often decry our current lack of attention span, it seemed to be no better 10 ...more
Jen Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ
What an amazing story! David von Drehle clearly spent a great deal of time researching his book which truly does commemorate those that were lost in this horrible work fire. He sets the stage for the working conditions, the movement among young women to be heard for improved worker safety and shorter work days. I'm grateful for the light that von Drehle was able to shed on those that lost their lives, escaping the Mt. Vesuvius eruption to the pogroms in Russia, and coming to America for a better ...more
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trena by: Sheryl
In addition to giving a terrifying minute-by-minute account of the fire, Von Drehle puts the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire into its larger social context of strikes, socialism, Tammany, and labor reform. Though I knew a bit about the fire itself, I didn't know much about labor history of the time and the author does a nice job of keeping the pace going while still explaining the philosophy and tensions. There are parts that seem extraneous, but it was overall a well-written and engaging book. I appre ...more
Aug 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On March 25, 1911, just before closing time, a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company factory in New York City and quickly raged out of control. Due to a combination of poor building design, a lack of proper leadership, and the absence of any type of disaster preparedness or safety protocols, the fire would kill 146 people, some as young as 14 years of age. This book presents the events of that day, the progress of the fire and the ensuing panic in vivid and frightening detail. The backgro ...more
Nov 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. What a fantastic read. A fascinating and well researched tale of the great fire of the New York garment factory known as the Triangle.

This book gives you the details of the life and times of the people, the workers, the labour laws, the politics, the tenements... a unique glimpse of the fire, the aftermath, the trial and what changed because of the tragic deaths in this fire.

I was literally spellbound reading this book - it was that good. I am looking forward to reading other works by this
Nov 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and informative but it got bogged down with too many names and too much political history, covering many years before the actual event of the Triangle fire, through many years after it.
Aug 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A gripping account of one of the worst tragedies in American history.
Jul 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I felt like I knew turn of the century New York going into this book - I've been studying it since I was a kid. In middle school we learned about the Tammany political machine and yellow journalism. In college I learned how the Triangle fire led to changes in the fire code, and that exit doors should always open out instead of in. A couple of years ago I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and gained a ground-level appreciation of the time.

It turns out that was only the barest of frameworks. Triangle

This was a very well detailed and insightful account of the historic 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory which led to revolutionary changes in the field of labor law (as suggested by the book's title and summary). It was also a revealing portrait of the lives of immigrants (particularly those of women) who worked in the New York City garment industry in the early 1900's.

The first four chapters of this book begin by providing a snapshot of what New York City was like in the early 20th Ce
Kressel Housman
The Triangle Fire is a well-known historical event in frum circles for two reasons: 1) most of its victims were young Jewish women, and 2) the fire was on Shabbos. Employees of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factories were allowed the option of not working on Shabbos, but they would lose the day’s pay for it. Most chose to work, and 146 lost their lives for it. Their Jewish employers faced a lawsuit afterward. Though they won (they were defended by yet another Lower East Side Jew), their reputations we ...more
Jul 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-history
146 people died in this fire. This 2003 book contains, in its appendix, a list of 140 victims, probably the most accurate list up to that time. Since then, a researcher has identified has identified the remaining six victims. Read about it here:

There is also a fascinating Cornell University website about this fire.

Trivial error spotting: In Chapter 8, Henry Morgenthau Sr. is incorrectly characterized as “a future sec
Oct 23, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2006
Extremely well researched and written "Triangle" is the story of the 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factor that killed 146 workers, most of them young women. David von Drehle not only writes about the fire, but the events leading up to the fire, including a prolonged strike by garment workers in 1909. The conditions the workers had to deal with are also described as well as the incredibly long work week (100 hours) for low wages which the owners tried to make even lower whenever they could ...more
Nov 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating read. I thought the author did a great job of organizing and retelling a part of history that could easily be very confusing. Not only did he relay the events of the actual fire in such a way that helped one get an organized and understandable picture of the situation, but he thoroughly explained contextual accounts of working conditions, labor strikes and the trail after the fire. He was also straight forward in describing the facts that outlined examples of bias/illicit activity/ ...more
Mar 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 11-in-11
For a non-fiction book that is not "fictionalized", Triangle: The Fire That Changed America is an engaging account of the events before, during and after the tragic March 25, 2911 fire in the Triangle Waist Factory in New York City. (A "waist" was a lady's blouse.) Von Drehle provides a thorough context to the fire; the political, legal, social and labour background is described in detail.

My interest flagged once or twice during the descriptions of the union activities--maybe because Canada has
Sep 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: labor, law
First read Michael Leccese's great review. Then go to Washington Square in NYC where the building still stands where sweatshop workers mostly young immigrant woman jumped to their deaths, sometmes holding hands with other workers to escape the flames. It is so eerily like the World Trade center in that regard. The doors to the factory had been nailed shut to prevent workers from taking breaks. The building codes were flimsy and unenforced. the owners were greed and sickenly escaped all liability ...more
An interesting story for those who like books on Gilded Age New York. The account of the fire and its aftermath was a gripping read, and very reminiscent of 9-11. What makes this disaster different than the hundreds of similar incidents before it, is that it followed a strongly awakened wave of activism among women garment workers. However, before the fire, Tammany was firmly on the side of the moneyed interests (ie. the factory owners), using their police force and hired goons, to beat up the s ...more
Mar 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Very moving story of the Triangle Waist Factory fire on NYC's lower east side in March 1911 where 146 people, 123 of which were young women, perished in a horrific industrial fire. The author did a superb job of bring to life the people involved in the tragedy, including those who perished, stitching together the forces of immigration which resulted in so many immigrant women working in low paying jobs, the rampant corruption which allowed the palid working conditions to go unchecked, the lack o ...more
Jun 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of the most fascinating books I've read in a long time. Highly recommended. The year was 1911. New York City was, like today, brimming with immigrants—from Russian Jews who escaped genocide to Italians who left hometowns that were destroyed by an erupting Mt. Vesuvius. They started their new lives in the land of opportunities. Some were fortunate enough to work their way up from poverty to become shop and factory owners, lawyers, and politicians. But most lived in tightly-packed tenements an ...more
Rachel Terry
Jul 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book sets the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire into its place in history and tries to show how it influenced New York and national politics. The author does a great job of illustrating the working and living conditions of immigrants in 1911. The description of the fire is horrific, and I had to take a break from the book for a while because it was just too much. But I came back to it, and I'm glad I did. My favorite part of the book was the chapter about the trial. It was as gripping as any ...more
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Traveling Readers: Book driven destination 10 6 Apr 22, 2013 01:19PM  
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  • The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy
  • Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894
  • Fire in the Grove: The Cocoanut Grove Tragedy and Its Aftermath
  • Curse of the Narrows: The Halifax Explosion 1917
  • To Sleep with the Angels: The Story of a Fire
  • Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919
  • The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche
  • There Is Power in a Union: The Epic Story of Labor in America
  • The Children's Blizzard
  • Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels
  • Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
  • Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing That Divided Gilded Age America
  • Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938
  • Firestorm at Peshtigo: A Town, Its People, and the Deadliest Fire in American History
  • Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America
  • American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the "It" Girl and the Crime of the Century
David von Drehle is the author of three previous books, including the award-winning Triangle, a history of the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire that The New York Times called "social history at its best." An editor-at-large at Time magazine, he and his family live in Kansas City, Missouri.
More about David von Drehle...

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