The Fire that Changed America by David Von Drehle

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TRIANGLE The Fire that Changed America by David Von Drehle

The book, TRIANGLE The Fire that Changed America, written by David Von Drehle, is set in New York City primarily in the tenements of the Lower East Side and in Greenwich Village. The story provides a detailed account of life as an immigrant during the early 1900s, the garment workers strikes, the corrupt political structure of the time, several eye witness accounts of the blaze that killed 146, the missing safety procedures that could have saved them, the trial that attempted to bring the owners to justice and finally the political change and work force standards that came about as a result of the tragic event.

The book begins by describing participants in a garment industry strike and how any form of challenge to the authority, the factory owners, would be handled. He describes the money driven political corruption that allowed the owners to thwart any upheaval by sending out the muscles of the not so underworld to beat the strikers, women included. One of these occasions, in September of 1909, included Miss Clara Lemlich. She was a fiery member of the socialist party and a garment worker. She personified the change in women of the day. Women who worked and supported a family, She represented the image of “The Gibson Girl”. After leaving a strike, she was targeted as a trouble maker and one of the criminals of the day was paid to beat her. This did however backfire as a bruised woman brought more people to the cause. On many occasions the protestors were arrested on trumped up charges to punish them for making waves. The police were also believed to be on the payroll. The main political team at the time was out of Tammany Hall.

The author also explained what brought many of the immigrants to the United States and the typical life they endured upon arrival. Immigration in America came in waves and during the era of late 1800s and early 1900s. Many were Russian Jews skilled at the trade of sewing. In Russia the trades that Jews were permitted to have were limited and one of these authorized trades was tailor. The surge of Russian Jew immigration was as a result of several anti-semitic activities occurring in Russia at the time. The current Czar created many rules that prevented Jews from being productive members of Russian society and there were also several pogroms during the ...

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...lp immigrants and the labor force, it also attempted to find someone responsible for the deaths of so many young women. The author points out that there were so many reasons people died, the concessions made to the buildings architect that allowed for the fire escape to be unusable, the build up of fabric that was an unregulated fire hazard, the failure to notify people in time that there was a fire and the owners locking some of the exit doors in order to prevent stealing. There was outcry in the immigrant community that the owners of the factory be held to blame. The trial did not result in a conviction and it is believed that the judge was siding with the defendants every step of the way, he had been the victim of a fire lawsuit in a tenement building.

The book was enjoyable and the author was so descript. His detail in describing where the women came from, what they experienced day to day after coming to America, the social change of the time, followed by his detailed account of the tragedy really brought out emotion. I believe he may have spread it out a bit farther then needed by going into so much detail during the strike but in all the book was a fantastic read.
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