Labor Arts | The Triangle Fire | State Response
The Triangle Fire: One Hundred Years After
State Response

Three months after the fire Governor John A. Dix signed a law creating the Factory Investigating Commission. Headed by state senator and future United States Senator Robert F. Wagner, the commission interviewed 222 witnesses and inspected 1,836 factories. The New York State Legislature quickly enacted 36 statutes that regulated workplace fire safety, ventilation, as well as minimum standards for working women and children. In the labor arena, the ILGWU built on the public outrage over the Triangle fire to successfully organize the garment workers. By the mid-1920s collective bargaining had produced improved wage scales, benefits, and much improved shop conditions. However, the Great Depression of the 1930s and violent rivalries between militant Communists and moderate union leaders nearly destroyed the ILGWU. By 1932 its membership had declined more than fourfold to only 25,000.


An Act Creating The New York State Factory Investigating Commission and photograph from the Factory Commission Report.


State Senator Robert F. Wagner, who later became a United States Senator from New York, and Alfred E. Smith, elected Governor of New York in 1928, were the most influential members of the Factory Commission. As the sponsor of the Wagner Act and other progressive labor legislation during the New Deal, Wagner played a key role working with President Franklin D. Roosevelt to shape national labor legislation.

Photograph, courtesy Library of Congress.

Frances Perkins saw the falling bodies from the Greene Street windows. She was one of the Factory Commission's most energetic investigators. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed her to the position of Secretary of Labor, the United States' first female cabinet officer.

Photograph, courtesy Library of Congress.

The communist Needle Trades Workers Industrial Union challenged the ILGWU during the 1920s.

NYU Tamiment Library.

With collective bargaining legalized by the Wagner Act of 1935 and protected by the National Labor Relations Board, the ILGWU rebuilt itself. A series of strikes in the early 1930s restored a sense of solidarity. By the end of the decade the union had more than 150,000 members.

Dressmakers taking a strike vote in February 1936, Daily Worker.

Photograph, courtesy NYU Tamiment Library Collections.

Growing union membership supported health, welfare, and educational programs.

Photograph, courtesy NYU Tamiment Library Collections.

The ILGWU's Educational Department celebrated solidarity and union successes in the 1930s. It promoted the idea that education was the avenue to upward mobility for the garment workers. ILGWU Education Department pamphlet, 1936.