Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Jessica Gunderson
Illustrator:  Phil Miller , Charles Barnett III 
Nonfiction Graphic Novel  Series
For ages 7 to 9
Capstone Press, 2004   ISBN: 978-0736854832

The workers who labor in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory have a hard life. They get paid very little, they work long hours, and their employers even have the nerve to lock the workers in because they are afraid that they will steal things. There comes a time however when a former factory girl, Clara Lemlich, encourages the workers to go on strike. She is tired of hearing the union's words. It is time for action and for change.

And so in November of 1909 the Triangle Shirtwaist Company employees go on strike, asking for higher wages and fewer hours. Many of them are arrested and imprisoned but they don't give in and finally the owners agree to pay them a little more and reduce the required work hours to fifty-two hours a week. The owners refuse to unlock the doors during working hours however. As long as the factory workers are on the clock they will be locked in the building.

Then on March 25, 1911 a fire breaks out on the eighth floor of the building which houses the factory. The hoses in the building don't work, nor does the phone. There is no way to warn everyone on the ninth and tenth floors about the danger. Worse still there is no way to open the doors and the fire escape is falling apart. The ladders that the firemen have are not long enough to reach the floors that are on fire and when some of the factory workers jump into the firemen's net, the net breaks and they are killed. Some of the workers manage to escape by crawling across a ladder to the roof of building next door. In the end the twenty minute fire killed one hundred and forty-six people.

Because of the fire, conditions in factories were improved. Doors could no longer be locked and fire escapes had to be useable. Sprinkler systems were also installed. However it was a very high price to pay to bring about change.

This book tells the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire to great effect. The author not only describes what took place on that fateful day, but she also gives the reader plenty of background material about what it was like to be a factory worker in the early 1900's. In addition she describes how something good did indeed come out of the tragedy. A ""More about the Triangle Fire"" section at the back of the book provides readers with further information about the event and its aftermath.

With its graphic novel format and its well written story this title truly brings history to life making it engaging and interesting.