Industrial Fire

Defense workers turn out nose cones for bombers at Douglas Aircraft’s Long Beach, California factory, October 1942. 

Today is National Manufacturing Day!

Leading on the Home Front

To fight a global war, America needed to mobilize its entire population on the “Home Front.” This enormous effort touched almost every aspect of life and unleashed economic forces that reverberated for generations.

Under FDR’s direction, government assumed unprecedented economic powers. Defense spending skyrocketed. Millions of Americans paid Federal income taxes for the first time. To control inflation, the government put limits on wages, prices, and rents. And to conserve scarce goods, it rationed products ranging from gasoline to sugar.

As the war effort heated up, FDR signaled that further New Deal reforms would be postponed. “Dr. New Deal,” he explained, was now “Dr. Win-the-War.” Eleanor Roosevelt objected to this decision, but the war itself soon brought new possibilities for reform. Booming war industries generated millions of jobs. This created unprecedented opportunities for women, African Americans and other minorities - and fostered demands for greater social and economic opportunity.

US Army Poster, 1942. Artwork by Adolph Treidler.

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On March 25, 1911, a match was dropped and a factory exploded with fire, resulting in one of the highest losses of life from an industrial accident in the US. 146 people–mostly women–were burned alive, succumbed to smoke inhalation, or were forced to jump from the eighth, ninth, and tenth stories of the Asche Building* in New York City. Factory owners had locked the doors to stairwells and fire escapes to stop the women from taking unauthorized breaks and to stem the theft of the materials and products from the factory floor.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, which led to legislation to improve industrial safety standards for workers and the founding of the American Society of Safety Engineers, remains a stark reminder of the harsh conditions under which workers, including women and children, were forced to toil before workplace safety initiatives were widely employed in the US. Read more at

The two images above depict a view of the Asche Building interior after the fire and a demonstration of protest and mourning held several weeks after the fire.

See the entire set of powerful images from the National Archives and Records Administration collection here.

*Now the Brown Building, a part of the campus of New York University (NYU). It is located at 23-29 Washington Place, between Greene Street and Washington Square East in Greenwich Village, New York City. More.