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American Experience: Triangle Fire (2011)

 NR |  DVD
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: March 1, 2011
  • Run Time: 60 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004AR4VYA
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,498 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

The fire that tore through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City on March 25, 1911, was the gruesome culmination of years of unrest in America's most profitable manufacturing industry. Two years earlier, led by a spontaneous walkout in the same factory, twenty thousand garment workers, in the largest women's strike in American history, took to the streets of New York to protest working conditions. They gained the support of both progressives and leading women in New York's high society. But it took the tragedy at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the death of one hundred and forty-eight young women and the ensuing national outrage, to force government action. From producer Jamila Wignot (Walt Whitman, Jesse James, The Massie Affair) comes Triangle Fire (wt), a one-hour film chronicling the tragedy that shook New York and forever changed the relationship between labor and industry in the United States. And it is a relationship that is still in question today as Americans re-e

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All for Profit January 31, 2011
March, 1911. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company, located on a corner of Manhattan's Washington Square, was in many ways representative of the now infamous sweat shops that exploited young immigrants to the city. Poor wages, long hours, and unsafe working conditions had been protested months before by the largest work stoppage in New York history up to that time. While the strike made some gains, many problems persisted, and when a deadly fire broke out within the Triangle workshop, the death toll made the need for reform brutally real.

In this documentary for PBS, director producer Jamila Wignot, and executive producer Mark Samels examine the relationship between New York's social divisions, political corruption, the industrialists' quest for profit, the human rights of workers, and the emergence of the labor movement. Delving into the archives of survivor interviews, photographs, films, and written accounts, the narrative personalizes the struggle, aided by insightful commentary from historians. Most of the Triangle workers were young immigrant women wondering why they were deprived of their share of the American Dream. Extensive footage of the factory work rooms, and of the ruthless treatment of picketers, lead up to the fire itself, which broke out on March 25. Five hundred people occupied the factory that day, and while three quarters escaped, the plight of the victims left helpless is graphically presented. In 45 minutes, 146 people died because of safety violations, in spite of the efforts of fire personnel, which are also well documented. Not surprisingly, the tragedy prompted horror and outrage from the public, which had been well informed about workers' complaints in previous months, and which willingly contributed to relief efforts for the families left behind. Finally, the impact of the tragedy, immense public pressure for safety and labor reforms on the local, state, and federal levels, is covered.

Powerful and compelling.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting Documentary March 26, 2011
You might think any movie on this infamous workplace fire would be markedly biased toward the workers and against the owners. But this film presents a more realistic picture -- with many minutes devoted to documenting the owners facing truly cutthroat competition (there were 500 shirtwaist factories in NYC alone then) and being, in their words, "just one season away from bankruptcy." The film definitely portrays the business enterprise existing only because its two owners risked everything they had and even mortgaged their homes to build the Triangle factory. You are given the feeling that the business was there only because of the proprietors' extreme gamble, which by and large was true for just about every capitalistic enterprise in the late 1800s - early 1900s.

And the workers??? They probably would not have emigrated to the US at all if it were not for the existence of these factories. As bad as some of the sweatshops were (Triangle was considered the "cream" or "cherry" of the garment factories of the day in NYC), they did offer hard-working immigrants a step on the first rung of the ladder to the American Dream.

In other words, such factories were a blessing -- perhaps more of a blessing than a curse even despite their terrible deficiencies.

The other observation I have on this film is the tremendous role this one episode played in the US labor movement, labor laws, and factory regulations. I first learned of the Triangle fire in my US high school history text, where it was given one sentence. I did not know, until this PBS film, that Samuel Gompers himself got involved with these ladies in their strike, and that the Vanderbilt family supported them in their quest for better wages and shorter hours. From this documentary, one gets the feeling that the Triangle fire was perhaps the pivotal event in US labor history that led to real lasting reforms.

This is a really well done, riveting hour of viewing.
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31 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Filmmakers Made Them Nameless Again! March 8, 2011
Verified Purchase
Do NOT buy this film thinking you'll get a complete overview of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire or Strikes. You won't.

I first learned about the Triangle *Fires* when I was ten years old. (The company had a history of suspicious fires in the years leading up to the tragedy -- almost always at the end of the busy season.) My father -- a member of *management* -- felt the Triangle was an important part of labor history. He said: "Remember the Triangle Fire, Kayla. If you work in a factory, always know where your exits are every moment of every day. If you feel a threat, don't wait. Go!" I was given a copy of Leon Stein's book about the Triangle Fire when I was relearning how to read after a brain injury. The voices of the men and women who survived the fire came alive again for me, because I already knew their names and their words from the First Edition. Their names, their stories of survival and of loss touched me deeply as a child and still do. As a former Union member and as an historian, I was very pleased that American Experience was doing an episode about the Triangle Strike and Fire.

And then, I watched the film. Words that *belonged* to actual people aren't credited except rarely and then only in the Closed Captioning. The narration speaks of immigrant women shirtwaist workers who banded together and went on strike for better working conditions and wages. (The film HAD to mention Clara Lemich, whose powerful speech helped begin the strike. It also mentioned the wealthy women who helped back the strikers. Money talks, one guesses.) The strikers themselves were beaten and horribly mistreated by paid-off police; and they stood firm. They struck for shorter working hours and better working conditions and workplace safety.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars AWESOME
My grandmother and her sisters worked at a clothing factory when they first came to The States. This doc was so devastating and so beautiful 'cause it recalled them and their... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Micole D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire
History is very much of interest to me as try to become more acquainted with pieces of history that I am not familiar. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Hazel
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Eye-Opener!
Unions have become a scourge to American industry and government - eg. helping bankrupt G.M. and Chrysler, as well as Detroit, Stockton, etc. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Loyd E. Eskildson
4.0 out of 5 stars US History
I use this video in my 8th grade history class I find it to be a great teaching tool. It holds the kids interest, discussions are great
Published 15 months ago by John Retzer
4.0 out of 5 stars The fire that changed the course of history
I had heard about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire before, but never knew the details until I watched this American Experience presentation. Read more
Published 15 months ago by HoneyBadgerReviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An Emotional Story That is Excellent for Use in U.S. History Classes
I used this DVD for the first time this school year and my students were very interested...always a plus! It included background info. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Patty
5.0 out of 5 stars History making sense
My daughter is working on her PhD in history and currently teaching at a university. She has found that nothing teaches history like seeing it. Read more
Published on February 23, 2012 by Sharron
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Documentary about Early Labor Practices
Others write that this documentary covers little about the fire itself, and that is true. However, I think it does an excellent job of showing early labor practices, and the abuse... Read more
Published on July 30, 2011 by Jeff Davis
1.0 out of 5 stars Not About the Fire
I just watched this free on the PBS website. It was worth every penny I paid to watch it. As stated elsewhere, most of it is not about the fire, but the union movement. Read more
Published on May 1, 2011 by Mike Mitchell
2.0 out of 5 stars Triangle Labor Strike
I'll start by noting that I watched this video because I'm interested in fire history and have read about the Triangle Fire, which is an important episode in that history. Read more
Published on March 7, 2011 by Ann E. Lundberg
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