by David Von Drehle

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Epilogue Summary

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Last Updated on August 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 305

The development of American liberalism can be traced to the Triangle Factory fire, an event which shaped the generation that made the Democrats America's working-class progressive party. Alfred E. Smith became governor of New York in 1918 and surrounded himself with alumni from the Factory Commission, the spirit of which "infused their work." Robert Wagner later became Roosevelt's right-hand man, Frances Perkins his secretary of labor, and both remained in the cabinet throughout Roosevelt’s entire presidency. They were also involved in the drafting of the New Deal, and “both of them knew exactly where the New Deal was rooted”—in the legacy of the Triangle Factory disaster. On the fiftieth anniversary of the fire, Perkins helped to dedicate a plaque to the victims.

In the aftermath of the fire, Blanck and Harris tried to remove themselves from the spotlight and struggled to keep the Triangle Company alive, never again achieving their former levels of success. The company was caught sewing counterfeit Consumer's League labels into their garments, "faking the official seal of decent workplace conditions," and the business partnership split up around 1920. Prior to this, however, Blanck and Harris collected more than $60,000 above any losses they could prove, reaping insurance of "more than four hundred dollars per dead worker." Late in the summer of 1913, Blanck was arrested and charged for locking a door during working hours at his factory on Fifth Avenue. The judge found him guilty but gave him the lightest punishment possible and apologized for having to fine him.

Although much has been forgotten about the Triangle fire and the experiences of those who worked at the factory, the disaster led to lasting political change. Of the fire’s victims and survivors, Von Drehle writes, "Their individual lives are mostly lost to us, but their monument and legacy are stitched into our world."

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Chapter 9 Summary