CriticalReview- Triangle: The Fire that ChangedAmerica BackgroundDavid Von Drehle explained the tragedyof the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire to be one of great history. StuartShiffman (2011) supports this claim by indicating that the Triangle: The Fire that Changed America is a powerful yethistorical work that brings vibrancy to the event of the fire. The engulfing flames destroyed the TriangleShirtwaist factory, taking one hundred and forty six lives. The victims of thefire were mostly Jewish and Italian women workers, who were immigrants. During the course of the fire only oneexit door was unlocked, forcing workers to fall to their death, while othersdied from the smoke.
David Von Drehle used scholarly research to capture theessence of the event, while in the same breathe presenting a social andpolitical background of the fire. According to Huebler, Hupfauer, Loudermilk,& Rice (2007), “The author goes great lengths to document the content basedon research of periodicals obtained fromthe time leading up to and immediately following the Triangle fire” (p. 2). Content Review The opening chapters of the booklaunched the working circumstances, such as deficiency of worker rights, as wellas the increasing strife the leaders placed on the laborers. Triangle: The Fire that Changed America talksabout a woman by the name of Tammany Hall who paid Charles Rose to beat a woman.
“But Charles Rose was not a finicky man…Rose was employed on a mission thatwould make men squeamish. He had been hired to beat up young a woman…ClaraLemlich” (pg. 6). The life of Lemlich was accounted in immense detail in thisscholarly written narrative to demonstrate the extent of which Von Drehle wentto help readers understand the immediacy of the events preceding the fire. Italso demonstrates the battle between workers and owners. Von Drehle accountsthe fire by portraying the filthy working situations of trade in New York. Inlight of such an example of Clara Lemlich, the author is meticulous in the wayhe presents matters that results in great tragedy because her beating led to”…the ravenous flames inside the Triangle Shirtwaist Company…” (Von Drehle,2003, pg. 12).
Triangle: The Fire that Changed America presentedexplicit information of the incidents surrounding the fire through anassortment of perspective consisting of eye witnesses, emergency responders,and worker who were enclosed in the fire. The content presented by Von Drehlewas enormously detailed, especially those from eye witness. According toHeather Pool (2012), “…large crowd…witnessed dozens of young girl plunge totheir death from the ninth floor, many in flames. Members of the crowd couldhear screams of the workers as they caught fire and could smell the burnt fleshof the victims” (pg. 183).
Though eye witnesses were an integral part of DavidVon Drehle explanation of what was happening in the triangle fire, only thosewho were present at the site of the tragedy can really understand. Steven Biel(2011) mentioned that, “Those personal narratives, though eloquent, come at aremove of two or more generations and have less of an emotional impact…” (pg.943). Reader can only imagine what it islike but cannot feel the emotions of the eye witnesses, despite the intricatedetails presented in the text.
In additional to eye witness being anintegral part of depicting the event, the text included pictures, which servedas excellent visuals, not only for reader to have an idea of the event, but avisual outline of the factory and the working conditions of the company. Withoutpictures, Von Drehle’s readers would not have a comprehensible understanding ofthe placement and location of workers, or even a proper description of thefire. Huebler, Hupfauer, Loudermilk, & Rice (2007) explained that, “Thepictures and illustrations are exceptional and could stand alone for teachingpurpose relation to the fire and aftermath…The visual aids provide additionalinsight and are essential for the readerto understand the events of the book ” (pg. 3). Review of Historical Significance Von Drehle’s thorough inspection ofthe disastrous event is more than just a factual explanation.
He centered muchattention on the trial that took place from the fire and the attempts that weremade to discipline individuals (Isaac Harris and Blanck) accountable for theoverall situation of the event, before and after. According to Zasky (2003), “Theauthor’s discovery of a long-lost trial transcript also advances our collectiveunderstanding of the circumstances surrounding the disaster, and helps explainwhy the Triangle was such a safety-challenged workplace” (n.p). The vivid accountof the lawyers involved in the trial further supplements the readers’understanding behind the motivations of the main accomplices.
The criminal trial of the factoryleaders, after the Triangle fire is a gripping occasion that compound theevents leading up the tragedy, as well as the events that occurred after. Fromthe text, Triangle: The Fire that ChangedAmerica, Von Drehle writing lack the contemporary rudiments of mediaconfusion and chaos. Though lacking societal mayhem, the author provides hisreader with substantial background information about Max Steuer, Harris andBlanck’s attorney, a legend in his line of practice.
According to Von Drehle(2003), “Max Steuer…was a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who arrived toNew York with nothing and started climbing…Steuer built his early careers toTammany—jailhouse work initially…but quickly building into more serious matters” (pg 222 & 226). Both defendant,Harris and Blanck’s were found not guilty, with an acquittal verdict, throughthe works and strategies of Steuer. The result of the verdict cause thedefendant to “… duck down the subway stairs outside a secret entrance…( VonDrehle, 2003, pg 263). While the result of the fire shockedthe city of New York, Von Drehle highlighted for his readers, that victim ofthe Triangle fire didn’t perish in vain.
Shiffman (2011), mentioned that “Outof the tragedy come more fire-prevention legislation, factory inspection laws,worker’s compensation acts, and the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’Union” (n.p). The Triangle: The Fire thatChanged America, used this event of tragedy to bring attention to theinsidious, extensively acknowledged, narrow-minded issues of the dangerouslyunsafe workplace. It is also significant that Von Drehlehighlighting the internal conflicts that resulted in the tragedy of one hundredand forty six victims. Shiffman (2011) explained some of the problems thatcause the tragedy of the Triangle fire by stating that, “Exit doors had beenlocked to prevent the girls from sneaking out..
. Other doors have been lockedto prevent employees from leaving…Fire hoses that might have put out the firein its nascent stage were rotten at the folds” (n.
p). Triangle:The Fire that Changed America brought about significant light to issuesthat were happening at Triangle Shirtwaist Company as well as other companiesin and around New York.Pool (2012) also highlighted that VonDrehle’s Triangle: The Fire that ChangedAmerica, sparked many changes in politics. She stated that, “Spurred byloss, activists, union members, Progressive reformer, and politicians allcontributed to now-strengthened call for industrial regulation and workersprotection” (pg 183).
The author points out the importance for safety withinthe workplace. During that time, in the early 1900s, laws protecting workerswere not enforced but Von Drehle use Triangle:The Fire that Changed America, to uncover this issues, as well as otherpolitical conflicts. Huebler, Hupfauer, Loudermilk, & Rice (2007) supportthis statement by stating that, “The book is particularly important…as itdescribes the conflicts between worker, management and the expectations ofworker. There appears to be shortage of history…one that encompasses socialhistory, details of a workplace tragedy and conflict between workers and bosses”(pg 3). The book is a great text that allows for individuals to examine thesocial and political impacts of organizational safety within the workplace. Triangle: The Fire that Changed America broughtawareness to issues within the workplace, causing a significant change.According to Pool (2012), “…the fire helped establish basic worker protectionby opening up a different type of conversation about belonging and politicalidentity…” (pg 184). There is one issue with the text on awhole.
Though it brought light to issueswithin the workplace that result in social and political change for worker, Triangle: The Fire that Changed America, didn’tbring about permanent change. According to Mike Wallace (2003), “The onlyproblematic part of the book is the assumption, nestled in its titled, thatthe catastrophe wrought a permanent transformation in the American workplace”(n.p).
Though change was not permanent, Von Drehle used his talent of writingto show the essence of the tragedy on March of 1911, capturing lasting memoriesand monument of those who lost their lives in Triangle Shirtwaist Companyfire. Conclusion David Von Drehle explained thetragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire to be one of great history. Theengulfing flames destroyed the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, taking one hundredand forty six lives. David Von Drehle used scholarly research to capture theessence of the event, while in the same breathe presenting a social andpolitical background of the fire. In addition to eye witness being an integralpart of depicting the event, the text included pictures, which served asexcellent visuals, not only for reader to have an idea of the event that tookplace, but a visual outline of the factory and the working conditions of thecompany.
It is also significant that Von Drehle highlighting the internalconflicts that resulted in the tragedy of one hundred and forty six victimsby pointing out the importance for safetywithin the workplace. Through Triangle:The Fire that Changed America, the victims of the fire got the historicalrecognition they deserve.