Building Safety and Fire Improvements 1800-1900s

Topics: Economics

Throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, industries boomed as mechanical and economic advances made new possibilities for workers and company owners. Early developers in the Garment Industry, also known as the “Shirtwaist Kings”, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris used buildings known as loft factories for their main manufacturing buildings for women to work in. Throughout the buildings lie great possibilities and also some very unsafe situations for the women. The WTUL (Women’s Trade Union League) targeted the Triangle shirtwaist factory because of its unsafe work conditions and its frequent accidents among the workers.

Though all of the unsafe work conditions, the people in the front offices found the economic advantages to be the main reason of keeping the industries working.

Loft industries, the steps of production, also known as an “inside shop”, was formed by Blanck and Harris in 1901. Loft buildings, as described in The Triangle Fires by Jo Ann E. Argersinger, is the steps of production under one roof, “Also reffered to as ‘loft’ industries, these mechanized factories occupied entire buildings or were located in the upper floors of multistory buildings” (Argersinger 5).

With the entire work force being put into one building it helped the industry with building contracts with only one being used, and it also kept people together in one compact area to keep head counts with work.

It was said that Isaac Harris personally arranged certain floors in buildings to “280 sewing machines on the ninth floor to minimize conversation among workers and maximize production.” With the minimized conversation did come maximized production and not only because of the minimized conversation, but also because of the successful work giving the workers new equipment to work with.

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The steady improvements to the sewing machine lead to mass production increases. Mechanical sewing machines soon replaced the foot driven machines and increased the number of stiches per minute from eight hundred to nearly four thousand. This allowed the Triangle Factory to create nearly one thousand blouses a day.

With nearly one thousand blouses produced a day, the industry boomed into a great period. Increased demands lead to having to guess what the newest style would consist of and it lead to a very “volatile, competitive, and seasonal one” meaning that many companies would risk everything to come out with the newest looks and would employ a large amount of women to work for them. With the booming demand for workers, it allowed for immigrant women to find a quick, yet harsh, way to work.

The women would have to put their body in harms way, however it allowed a lot of women to help pay and bring home money to their families to help send their children to school and possibly help if the husband was ill in any way. Although there were many economic boosts with compensation and the rise of the garment industries, there were also many unsafe ways women were working in.

Women suffered in minor and major ways while working in the loft buildings. Some more than others, but the main reason for their suffering while working was because of the poor working conditions. As the women entered and left work they were all squeezed through narrow doorways and alleyways. The reason for this was because the buildings were not constructed to become factories, “Loft buildings were never constructed to be factories, and they first came to be used as such almost by accident”.

The women were also put into very small work areas to where the occupancy level was clearly surpassed just to increase the production of the product. In the early 1900’s, an efficient job well done for any fire department was if they could reach about 85 feet which happened to be 7 stories high. The Triangle Factory had workers all the way up to the tenth floor. This caused quite a stir with the fire safety issues in the building because according to the Fire Commissioner, “the occupants of the three upper floors could not have got down by the fire-escape in less than three hours…”, with this statement you think about truly how unsafe the conditions were. With all of these fire safety issues, the other things that were harmful were the substances around them. There were gases being released because of the lighting sources and there was box shelving everywhere with small thread pieces and tissue paper causing a very flammable environment.

In the end, there have been many improvements made to building support and fire safety. This tragic happening is still known as the most horrific tragedies in United States history with almost 150 deaths. Throughout the following years, the WTUL kept on forcing new work restrictions against every factory like the Triangle Factory. This factory in particular was not considered a sweatshop, however the conditions were atrocious and the safety issues, which were proven to be terrible, were very short of what they easily could have been.

Every year some tragedy happens due to a lack of understanding what kind of safety issues are overlooked and year, there are new restrictions put out. All around these restrictions come the economic advantages, with all the women being in one building under one roof allowing them to be monitored easily. This also accounted towards the production of the products because they were put into easier places to work where not a lot of talking would occur so they had to focus just on what they were making. Over 200 women would be put on one floor, crammed into small unworkable conditions just to create the latest fashion. The way they would work were in buildings known as Loft Buildings. All of the production happened under one roof and were created in 1901 by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, the two known as, The “Shirtwaist Kings”.

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Building Safety and Fire Improvements 1800-1900s. (2022, Dec 17). Retrieved from

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