American Experience (February 2011)
A chronicle of the 1911 factory fire that led to widespread reforms for factory safety.
On March 25, 1911, a fire claimed the lives of 146 garment workers – mostly women and girls – at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in NYC ‘s Greenwich Village, many jumping to their deaths, unable to escape the sweatshop building because the owners had had the doors locked to prevent theft and unauthorized breaks. Wignot’s straightforward film counts down to the tragedy, recounting the controversial growth of labor union power among garment workers and the reactionary responses of factory owners; a sense of the gap between the haves and have-nots of the time; brief profiles of some of the factory workers, many immigrants; the background of owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, immigrant success stories who managed to escape criminal charges in the end; and a quick rundown of the reforms and regulations introduced following the tragedy. Utilizing talking head experts, minor re-enacted sequences on the factory floor, archival sources, and recitations of the experiences of survivors, the film hews close to the PBS program’s typically more informative than artistic approach.