By Diella Archie, Alexa Drier, Daniel Pressman, and Ashley Shin, Binghamton University
The Binghamton Clothing Factory fire of 1913 was the deadliest fire in Binghamton’s history, killing 31 of the more than 100 people inside in less than 20 minutes. The fire took place on July 22nd, at 17-18 Wall Street. Although the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire took place less than two years prior, prompting more fire safety regulations in factories, still other factors led to Binghamton's disastrous event. The fire was not only significant to the past but also draws many parallels to today’s world in terms of workers rights and safety.
A century ago, the conflict centered around poorly built buildings which lacked proper protocol that we think of as commonplace today, such as sprinklers, fire alarms and fire escapes. This architectural flaw led to third and fourth floor workers being trapped inside the building with few escape plans. Many, if not all of the deaths could’ve been prevented if proper protocol had been followed.
Even with these fire hazards, most if not all of the deaths could’ve been prevented during that fateful day. First off, the unbearable summer heat inside the factory led to women working in only their slips. This made them hesitant to leave the building when the alarm went off, out of fear of men heckling them from down the street. Had these women not had this initial hesitation they likely would’ve been more inclined to immediately evacuate the building once the alarm sounded. Additionally, many workers immigrants, resulting in a language barrier that led to confusion during the fire. Lastly, firemen were at a different call at the time of the fire, and by the time they arrived at the scene it was impossible to stop the fast spreading fire. If any of these problems had been addressed, we may not be doing this project right now.
Despite many of these issues seeming like problems of the past, sadly, in developing countries across the world this tends not to be the case. It’s common for factory conditions to appear just as bad, if not worse than the old Binghamton factories. For example, as recently as 2013, a Bangladesh clothing factory collapsed due to poor architectural structure, killing over 1,100 people. Tragedies like just like this happen all to frequently in third world countries. Even around here in Binghamton, the fight for workers rights is an ongoing process. Just this past year 42 workers, including a 9 and 14 year old, died on the job due to dangerous working conditions. People such as Rick Sprout and Pat Donohue continue to advocate for these very workers all the over world today through community meetings, memorials and annual programs.
Given the multifaceted nature of this project, we created an interactive project that allows for the user to draw conclusions from a plethora of information however they may like. By scrolling through galleries of pictures, listening to various sounds related to the topics, songs that symbolize the emotions displayed on-screen, and for those that are intrigued; links to relevant articles, books and videos that go more in-depth on related topics, this project has the potential to foster sincere interest on the topic.
Through this project, we hoped to at least make people a little more aware of the ripple effects of their everyday decisions. Obviously, most people don’t go buy cheap name brand clothes with the intention of causing poverty and unsafe working conditions in third world countries, but sadly that is a common result. By creating a narrative that is meant to draw on our emotions, the goal is that the audience takes at least a little time to reflect on their role in this international problem.