What is an analysis of Triangle?
Triangle is ultimately the story of how a tragedy led to extensive labor reform and improved workplace conditions for America's workers.
In his book, David von Drehle shines a spotlight on Tammany Hall politics, activist/reformers of the American progressive era, and the "shirtwaist kings" at the center of the tragedy (Max Blanck and Isaac Harris).
Admittedly, the negligence of Tammany Hall politicians, the "shirtwaist kings," and the New York City fire department led to the deaths of 146 immigrant workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in 1911. In the aftermath of the fire, Tammany Hall leaders and the factory owners sought to blame each other for the tragedy. Each party was focused on avoiding fallout from one of the deadliest industrial disasters in American history. Bystanders observed that firemen (the NYC fire department was headed by Edward Croker, nephew to the notorious Richard "Boss" Croker of Tammany Hall) displayed little motivation to save lives as the fire engulfed the factory building.
The tragedy raised important issues about immigrant rights, workplace safety, and the role of politics in effecting change. Reformers such as Anne Morgan and Frances Perkins made progressive reform their political platform.
Drehle's narrative clearly documents the political and social upheaval that occurs after an unprecedented tragedy. Such upheavals, as in the case of the Triangle disaster, often result in important social reforms. Drehle's book also highlights the role self-preservation plays in influencing the behavior of politicians.
In the case of Charles F. Murphy (Tammany's chief), self-preservation was a strong motivator. He knew that the political future of the Democrat Party depended on its support of immigrant rights and worker reforms. He also understood that Tammany Hall needed to capture the working-class vote if it wanted to send its own politicians to Congress and the White House as well as dictate Democrat Party policy for decades to come.
So, Murphy founded the New York Factory Investigating Commission and placed two Tammany Hall politicians at its head, Alfred E. Smith and Robert F. Wagner. The commission was responsible for passing the most progressive workplace laws the United States had ever seen since its inception. The political success allowed Smith to win four terms as New York's governor. In 1933, Franklin D. Roosevelt (who ran on the same progressive platform) became president of the United States. His name for progress? The New Deal.
Robert Wagner naturally took his place as FDR's right-hand man in the Senate. Murphy's vision had paid off. Not only did the Factory Investigating Commission produce a new model for workplace safety in all of America's factories, but it also spearheaded the rise of the Democrat Party before the advent of WWII.