Rooftop view of the Asch building on Washington and Greene Streets after the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire where workers attempted to flee during the fire of New York, New York, March 25, 1911.(Photo by FPG/Getty Images)

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How History May Have Victimized the Owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory

Pair were charged with manslaughter in 1911 fire, but few laws at the time were broken.

When 146 workers, mostly young women, died in the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911, there was a justifiable call for justice. Especially after inspectors found that locked factory exit doors and a collapsed fire escape led many of the victims to die jumping off the 10-story building.

In the time since, the fire has become linked with the evils of capitalism of that era. But in those days, the press demanded a more tangible culprit.

And so, Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper pushed for the prosecution of the company’s owners Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, who faced first and second-degree manslaughter charges on Dec. 4, 1911. Though the two men were acquitted, their reputations certainly weren’t.

Blanck and Harris ultimately went out of business eight years later. It can be argued that a lack of government regulation and enforcement was more to blame than the owners themselves.

“The Triangle factory fire was truly horrific, but few laws and regulations were broken,” writes The Smithsonian Magazine’s Peter Liebhold. Blanck and Harris were accused of locking the secondary exits (in order to stop employee theft), and were tried for manslaughter. New York’s building codes were outdated at a time when entrepreneurs were finding new (and sometimes unsafe) uses for its high-rise buildings.”

Read the full story at Smithsonian