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Red Cross Recounts Response to 1911 Industrial Disaster


It has been more than one hundred years since the American Red Cross response to the March 25, 1911, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire; one of the deadliest industrial disasters in New York City. The Red Cross was at the center of the relief efforts, assisting the injured and reaching out to families who lost loved ones in the tragic aftermath. March is Red Cross Month, and an opportunity to recount that historic March day in Red Cross history.

It was a Saturday afternoon when the fire broke out on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of the factory at the Asch Building in Washington Place, New York City. The doors of the factory where most of the victims were found crowded against were locked, preventing them from escape. Forty people jumped the 110 feet to the ground. The fire famously led to legislation requiring better factory safety standards. In total, more than 140 people were killed and more than 70 were injured, mostly women and girls.

The next day, the American Red Cross issued an appeal for donations through local newspapers. And within three days, the relief committee’s staff of trained workers visited all of the victims’ families. The Red Cross centralized relief funds and responsibility to ensure exceptional assistance to the families affected at a time when such actions were not as highly coordinated.

Most of the families were Jewish and Italian immigrants in their late teens or early twenties who had just recently come to the country. Their incomes were largely derived from the labor of the girls and women who lost their lives. Some were contributing to the care of parents abroad or earning money to bring family members to America. Very few of these families had been recipients of charity before the fire.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in New York City.

With 166 cases, the Red Cross fire relief fund extended financial assistance to help families cope in the aftermath of loss and devastation. The Red Cross gave financial assistance to those who had been injured to regain their health without unreasonable sacrifice of their family members. And modest amounts were given to replace clothing or pay for funeral expenses. This prevented economic hardship which would have taken place if the families had attempted to weather the calamity unassisted.

Seven months after the disaster, the Red Cross followed up with the families that had been assisted to ensure their needs had been met.

Since the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the Red Cross response has evolved through disaster experiences such as this industrial tragedy. Visit the Red Cross to learn more about its history during March is Red Cross Month.