Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy Audio

Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy Audio

Albert Marrin
For ages 12 and up
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: John H. Meyer
Listening Library , 2012   ISBN: 978-0385361521

Between 1870 and 1900, approximately twelve million immigrants came to the United States, and another nine million arrived between 1901 and 1910. Most of these immigrants came through New York City and most of them were Italians and Russian Jews. The Italians came from the southern region of Italy, the part of the country that was mostly rural. The people were tenant farmers and their landlords demanded such high rents that the farmers were kept poor. Erosion, disease, and natural disasters made life impossible for these farmers and many of them decided to try their luck in America.

   Russian Jews did the same. Forced into the Pale of Settlement by the Russian government, the Jews were subjected to cruel laws, persecution, and pogroms. America offered the Jews the opportunity to lead lives where they had some control over their destiny.

   Though they were not attacked by Cossacks or subjected to earthquakes and volcanoes in New York City, these immigrants still did not have easy lives. The streets were not paved with gold and they had to work to survive. Often they could not afford decent housing and had to live in crowded, unsanitary, tenements.

   Many of the immigrants, in particular the young women, got jobs in the garment industry. Ready-to-wear clothes were in demand, and so people set up sweatshops were workers labored to cut, or basted, or sew together jackets, pants, shirt waists, and skirts. Then several businessmen decided that it made sense to have the cutters, basters, and sewers under one roof. One of these new companies was the Triangle Waist Company. Like many other similar businesses, the owners at the Triangle, as it was called, were greedy and did everything in their power to squeeze as much work as they could out of their workers. The hours were long, workers were charged for the needles, thread and other supplies they used, and the pay was pitifully small. In addition, the factories were unsafe places. With so much dry fiber floating around, fire was always a threat, and the workers never got to participate in fire drills.

   The garment workers went on strike to try to force the bosses to give them more pay and provide them with better working conditions, and though some small concessions were made, they were not enough.

   On November 26th, 1910 a fire broke out in Newark in a garment factory. The fire escapes were “useless,” and desperate workers leaped out of windows to get away from the flames. Twenty-three women and girls died and forty were injured. Hearing about the fire put fear into the hearts of women and girls who worked in other factories, and with good reason. Just four months later on March 24, 1911, a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Factory. One hundred and forty-six workers died. Most were girls and women, and many of them jumped out of the eighth and ninth story windows to fall to their deaths on the street below. The fire escape collapsed, and many of the workers were not even able to get out of the building because the doors would not open properly.

   The Triangle Waist Factory fire was the worst workplace fire in New York City’s history and it held this record until September 11, 2001. Though the loss was appalling, the fire brought about meaningful change. It showed the world that workers were people who needed to be valued and cared for, and that greed to make money could not be allowed to decide how workers should be treated.

   This carefully researched and wonderfully written book not only tells the story of the fire, but it also helps listeners to understand who the people who were affected by the fire were. In addition, the author tells the story of their struggle to get better working conditions, and the ramifications of the fire. Listeners will discover that the laws that were put into place because of the fire still affect the lives of working Americans today.