Two Fires

C. M. Naim in The South Asian Idea:

Ac38On Tuesday, September 11, 2012, a horrific fire in a garment factory in the BaldiaTownship in Karachi killed at least 259 persons, male and female. As I read about it on subsequent days I was reminded of another fire that occurred a century earlier—to be exact, on Saturday, November 25, 1911—in New York City. It too was in a garment factory, and took 146 lives, mostly young females. Named after the shirtwaist factory where it occurred, it is known in American history as the Triangle Fire. To refresh my memory I took to the books and soon realized that the Triangle Fire had a few lessons for the present day Pakistan.*

The Triangle Waist Factory (TWF) was situated on the top three floors of a ten-story building in the Washington Square area in Manhattan. The neighborhood was far from being a slum; though it had a several buildings with similar factories, it also had a few mansions of the rich, and some buildings of the New York University. TWF was owned by two Jewish men, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who were related to each other through marriage. They had immigrated to the United States only a couple of decades earlier, and through hard work as well as exploitation of immigrant labor in the garment industry—most of them were women, and a large number also Jewish—the two, by 1911, had become millionaires. Their success had come in particular from the popularity of a new female garment called “shirtwaist,” i.e. a shirt or bodice that reached only to the waist and was could be worn with any tailored skirt. It allowed more choice and freedom to its wearer, while adding a modish flair to otherwise more sober costumes. Shirtwaists were mostly made of sheer cotton fabrics. Unfortunately, the latter were also highly combustible.

More here.