Inspiration for Change
The Trianlge Shirtwaist Fire was the beginning of tremendous social reform laws and even inspired Frances Perkins (who became the Secretary of Labor under FDR and played a key role in the New Deal) to devote her life to worker's rights and labor laws. Tammany Hall, a notorious political machine based in New York, became extremely active in creating new labor and safety laws under the leadership of Al Smith and Robert Wagner (the Tammany Twins). Together they pushed out over 20 laws covering fire safety, factory inspections and sanitation, and employment rules for women and children (1). Within two years, the Tammany Twins entirely rewrote New York's labor laws and created a State Department of Labor to enforce the new laws (1).
Smith and Wagner also led the Factory Investigation Commission, which inspected thousands of factories ranging from shirtwaist factories to meat packing plants. The Bureau of Fire Investigation, led by Wagner, had additional powers to improve factory safety (1). The fire also made laborers realize the importance of unions. Consequentally, union membership soared and unions such as the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union and the Women's Trade Union Leauge became powerful symbols of American labor (1).
Frances Perkins was an investigator for the Factory Investigation Commission, and she also witnessed the Triangle Fire on March 25, 1911 (2). Ever since that day, Perkins devoted her life to improving the working conditions of factories. She befriended Al Smith and Robert Wagner, and was a huge influence on them. Without Perkins, Tammany Hall may have never bothered to reform labor laws. Perkins eventually became the Secretary of Labor under FDR, and both her and Wagner helped infiltrate the New Deal.
The Triangle Fire not only paved the way for labor and fire safety reform, but it also made the government more responsible for ensuring worker's safety in the workplace on a national scale. Without the extreme tragedy that is the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, all of this reform would not have happened and possibly the New Deal may have never been formed.
1. David Von Drehile, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America (New York: Grove Press, 2003) 215.
2. "Triangle Shirtwaist Fire | AFL-CIO". 2019. Aflcio.Org. https://aflcio.org/about/history/labor-history-events/triangle-shirtwaist-fire.