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By the time WWD made its debut on Wednesday, July 13, 1910, labor disputes were the apparel industry’s hot-button topic of the day. So much so, in fact, the leading front-page story that day highlighted the goings-on of the Cloak and Suit Makers’ Union, its demands and manufacturer response—as would every front page for the rest of the month. “Mass Meetings of Manufacturers,” “Sstrike Negotiations Off,” “Strike Situation Unchanged;” “Conference Prospects Dim”—WWD chronicled the entire saga. “It is…well known that the white plague is more prevalent among cloak workers because of the unsanitary factories,” said Alexander Bloch, chairman of the settlement committee, in a statement to the paper. “Fully 75 percent of the manufacturers became employers through the sufferings of others.” On July 7 the strike began; the Great Revolt, as it became known, would go down in history for finally establishing a Joint Board of Sanitary Control.
Less than a year later, another disaster struck that paved the way for even greater labor reforms: the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911. With exits locked, no sprinklers available and an inadequate fire escape, nearly 150 people, mostly young women, died, many by jumping from the building. That incident led ultimately to labor laws protecting factory workers and to the birth of the American Society of Safety Engineers. The event also proved to be a pivotal moment for a woman named Frances Perkins, who had been watching from a nearby restaurant; decades later, she became the first female U.S. Secretary of Labor, promoting progressive reform.
This story first appeared in the November 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.