Triangle Fire PBS American Experience Teacher Guide | Student Handouts
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Triangle Fire, PBS: American Experience > U.S. History > Discontent and Reform > Books and Films
Triangle Fire (PBS American Experience, 2011) TV Documentary Film Video DVD Official Poster Release date: 2011

Length: 54 minutes

Age appropriateness: "Triangle Fire" is a documentary film that originally aired on PBS as part of the "American Experience" series. This film is most appropriate for students in grades seven and up who are studying United States history during industrialization, the Gilded Age, and the labor movement. The content of this documentary is quite graphic, despite the fact that the images are antique black-and-white photographs. Teachers should keep a box of tissues handy, since the content of this film is quite heartbreaking.

Creators and stars: Alfred Allan Lewis, Annelise Orleck, Arle Bordas, David Espar, David Von Drehle, Deborah Clancy Porfido, Jamila Wignot, Mark Zwonitzer, Michael Murphy, Richard A. Greenwald, Robyn Muncy, Sierra Pettengill, Steve Fraser

Accuracy: "Triangle Fire" is an accurate depiction of the events that occurred between 1909 and 1911, resulting in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of March 25, 1911, in New York City's Greenwich Village, only a block from storied Washington Square Park. Historical footage, archival photographs, primary source documents, and accurate reenactments are used to tell this dramatic story.

Funeral procession in 1911 for the victims of the TRiangle Waist Factory fire in New York City, 1911.Review: "Triangle Fire" is a riveting, informative documentary that focuses on the pivotal event in American history that led to the rapid and decisive enactment of labor legislation and workplace safety standards in the United States. The story begins with the placement of the Triangle Waist Factory in the landscape of New York City, and the role of the factory's workers in the general strike held by NYC garment workers in 1909. The horrors of the fire are given in detail, through dramatic reenactments, archival photographs, and the use of eyewitness testimony.

Review and discussion questions: (1) Describe the 1909 efforts at unionization within the garment industry. (2) How and why did so many people die in the fire? (3) What new legislation was enacted as a reaction to this tragedy? (4) Could a similar workplace tragedy occur in the United States today?
New York City Fire Department (FDNY) En Route to the Triangle Waist Factory Fire in 1911Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, 1911Bodies in Coffins Lined Up for Identification after Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City, 1911
1. Have students locate the Asch Building (now known as the Brown Building) on Google Maps. The address is 23-29 Washington Place, New York, NY 10003. Once the building has been pinpointed, have students locate other sites nearby that are mentioned in the documentary, such as Washington Square Park.

2. After watching this DVD video, have students (working in groups) imagine that they are government officials dealing with the public outcry following this tragedy. Tell them that they have been called upon to enact legislation that will prevent another such tragedy from occurring in the future. Have the student groups compile lists of their new rules. Compare the students' rules with current workplace safety regulations.

3. Were the factory owners criminally responsible for the deaths that occurred? Have students (working in two groups) examine the evidence (available here and here) and debate the issue, with half of the class defending the owners, and half of the class prosecuting the owners. Pose the question, "Would the trial receive a different verdict today? Why or why not?"

4. Assign an individual victim to each student (names and biographical information are available here). Using a rubric of guidelines (such as name, date of birth, age, place of residence, country of origin, method of death), have students create tombstones for their assigned victims. If possible, these tombstones can be used to create a cemetery that can be toured by other students in order to educate them on this tragedy.

5. Have students read aloud the commemorative poem written by Morris Rosenfeld four days after the fire, available here.

Vocabulary terms: agitating, corpse, criminal trial, dangerous working conditions, docked pay, economic security, elevator operator, fire escape, garment industry, general strike, Gilded Age, Greenwich Village, grievances, immigrants, individualism, industrial machine, industrialists, labor movement, legislation, Lower East Side, Manhattan, morgue, New York City, sweatshops, technology, tenement, Triangle Waist Company, unionization, Washington Square Park
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