Fannie Lansner, freedom fighter
On March 25, 1911, 146 N.Y. garment workers died in what became known as the “Triangle Fire” — an event that led to changes in everything from building codes to workplace rules to American politics. Fannie Lansner was a forewoman in a relatively new, “fireproof” 10-story high rise — with Triangle using the top three floors — that was packed with sewing machines and support staff. In hindsight, though, safety concerns had not caught up with growing business needs. Sprinklers were not installed. The factory started two stories above the six-story height of fire ladders. To maximize production, there was little room left on the factory floor for quick exits. Stairways were too narrow to hold an outflow of workers. Exit doors opened in — against building codes — creating another hurdle to those fleeing catastrophe.
Late that fateful afternoon, just about quitting time, fire broke out. Investigators believe it started with a loose cigarette butt. Triangle Waist’s eighth-floor factory space was quickly engulfed — as flammable cloth and sewing patterns fueled the blaze. No fire alarm was sounded. The ninth floor workplace — where Fannie Lansner toiled — learned of the fire only when smoke and flames arrived. According to media reports and government investigators, Lansner kept her oversight role amid what has been described as wild chaos. She calmly herded several carloads of workers into a working elevator, refusing to take the trip to safety. She perished after that elevator became disabled – because too many workers had jumped into the elevator shaft to avoid the inferno.