Triangle Shirtwaist fire kills 146 in New York City


Year
1911
Month Day
March 25

In one of the darkest moments of America’s industrial history, the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory in New York City burns down, killing 146 workers, on this day in 1911. The tragedy led to the development of a series of laws and regulations that better protected the safety of factory workers.

The Triangle factory, owned by Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, was located in the top three floors of the 10-story Asch Building in downtown Manhattan. It was a sweatshop in every sense of the word: a cramped space lined with work stations and packed with poor immigrant workers, mostly teenaged women who did not speak English. At the time of the fire, there were four elevators with access to the factory floors, but only one was fully operational and it could hold only 12 people at a time. There were two stairways down to the street, but one was locked from the outside to prevent theft by the workers and the other opened inward only. The fire escape, as all would come to see, was shoddily constructed, and could not support the weight of more than a few women at a time.

Blanck and Harris already had a suspicious history of factory fires. The Triangle factory was twice scorched in 1902, while their Diamond Waist Company factory burned twice, in 1907 and in 1910. It seems that Blanck and Harris deliberately torched their workplaces before business hours in order to collect on the large fire-insurance policies they purchased, a not uncommon practice in the early 20th century. While this was not the cause of the 1911 fire, it contributed to the tragedy, as Blanck and Harris refused to install sprinkler systems and take other safety measures in case they needed to burn down their shops again.

READ MORE: How the Horrific Tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Led to Workplace Safety Laws

Added to this delinquency were Blanck and Harris’ notorious anti-worker policies. Their employees were paid a mere $15 a week, despite working 12 hours a day, every day. When the International Ladies Garment Workers Union led a strike in 1909 demanding higher pay and shorter and more predictable hours, Blanck and Harris’ company was one of the few manufacturers who resisted, hiring police as thugs to imprison the striking women, and paying off politicians to look the other way.

On March 25, a Saturday afternoon, there were 600 workers at the factory when a fire broke out in a rag bin on the eighth floor. The manager turned the fire hose on it, but the hose was rotted and its valve was rusted shut. Panic ensued as the workers fled to every exit. The elevator broke down after only four trips, and women began jumping down the shaft to their deaths. Those who fled down the wrong set of stairs were trapped inside and burned alive. Other women trapped on the eighth floor began jumping out the windows, which created a problem for the firefighters whose hoses were crushed by falling bodies. Also, the firefighters’ ladders stretched only as high as the seventh floor, and their safety nets were not strong enough to catch the women, who were jumping three at a time.

Blanck and Harris were on the building’s top floor with some workers when the fire broke out. They were able to escape by climbing onto the roof and hopping to an adjoining building.

The fire was out within half an hour, but not before over 140 deaths. The workers’ union organized a march on April 5 to protest the conditions that led to the fire; it was attended by 80,000 people.

Though Blanck and Harris were put on trial for manslaughter, they managed to get off scot-free. Still, the massacre for which they were responsible did finally compel the city to enact reform. In addition to the Sullivan-Hoey Fire Prevention Law passed that October, the New York Democratic set took up the cause of the worker and became known as a reform party.

READ MORE: The Labor Movement: A Timeline

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The settlement of Maryland


Year
1634
Month Day
March 25

The first colonists to Maryland arrive at St. Clement’s Island on Maryland’s western shore and found the settlement of St. Mary’s.

In 1632, King Charles I of England granted a charter to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, yielding him proprietary rights to a region east of the Potomac River in exchange for a share of the income derived from the land. The territory was named Maryland in honor of Henrietta Maria, the queen consort of Charles I. Before settlement began, George Calvert died and was succeeded by his son Cecilius, who sought to establish Maryland as a haven for Roman Catholics persecuted in England. In March 1634, the first English settlers–a carefully selected group of Catholics and Protestants–arrived at St. Clement’s Island aboard the Ark and the Dove.

Religious conflict was strong in ensuing years as the American Puritans, growing more numerous in Maryland and supported by Puritans in England, set out to revoke the religious freedoms guaranteed in the founding of the colony. In 1649, Maryland Governor William Stone responded by passing an act ensuring religious liberty and justice to all who believed in Jesus Christ. In 1654, however, the so-called Toleration Act was repealed after Puritans seized control of the colony, leading to a brief civil war that ended with Lord Baltimore losing control of propriety rights over Maryland in March 1655.

Although the Calverts later regained control of Maryland, anti-Catholic activity persisted until the 19th century, when many Catholic immigrants to America chose Baltimore as their home and helped enact laws to protect their free practice of religion.

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King Faisal of Saudi Arabia assassinated


Year
1975
Month Day
March 25

In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, King Faisal is shot to death by his nephew, Prince Faisal.

King Faisal, son of King Ibn Saud, fought in the military campaigns in the 1920s and ’30s that helped forge modern Saudi Arabia. He later served as Saudi ambassador to the United Nations and in 1953 was made premier upon the ascension of his older brother, Saud. In 1964, King Saud was pressured to abdicate, and Faisal became the absolute ruler of Saudi Arabia. As king, he sought to modernize his nation, and lent financial and moral support to anti-Israeli efforts in the Middle East. In 1975, Faisal was assassinated for reasons that remain obscure, and his son, Crown Prince Khalid, ascended to the throne.

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Europe’s Common Market founded in major step toward economic unity


Year
1957
Month Day
March 25

On March 25, 1957, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg sign a treaty in Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC), also known as the Common Market. The EEC, which came into operation in January 1958, was a major step in Europe’s movement toward economic and political union.

By 1950, it was apparent that centuries of Western European world supremacy was at an end. The national markets of Europe, isolated from each other by archaic trade laws, were no match for the giant market enjoyed by the United States. And looming over Europe from the east was the Soviet Union, whose communist leaders commanded vast territory and economic resources under a single system. Many European leaders also feared the resumption of conflict between traditional European antagonists such as France and Germany, which would only diminish the European economies further.

As a means of improving Europe’s economic climate and preventing war, some influential statesman and political theorists suggested economic integration. The first major step in this direction was taken in 1951, when France and West Germany formed the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), integrating their coal and steel industries. French leaders proposed the organization primarily as a means of monitoring German industry, and West German leaders immediately agreed, to allay fears of German militarization. To supervise the ECSC, several supranational bodies were established, including an executive authority, a council of ministers, an advisory assembly, and a court of justice to settle disputes. Italy and the three nations of the Benelux Economic Union–Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg–soon joined. The groundwork for the EEC was laid.

On March 25, 1957, representatives of six European nations signed two treaties in Rome. One created the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) for the common and peaceful development of Europe’s nuclear resources. The other created the EEC. In the Common Market, trade barriers between member nations were gradually eliminated, and common policies regarding transportation, agriculture, and economic relations with nonmember countries were implemented. Eventually, labor and capital were permitted to move freely within the boundaries of the community. The EEC, the ECSC, and Euratom were served by a single council of ministers, representative assembly, and court of justice. In 1967, the three organizations were fully merged as the European Community (EC).

Britain and other European nations initially declined to join the Common Market and established the weaker European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960 as an alternative. By the early 1960s, however, the Common Market nations showed signs of significant economic growth, and Britain changed its mind. Because of its close ties to the United States, however, French President Charles de Gaulle twice vetoed British admission, and Britain did not join the EC until January 1973, when Ireland and Denmark also became EC members. Greece joined in 1981, Portugal and Spain in 1986, and the former East Germany as part of reunified Germany in 1990.

In early 1990s, the European Community became the basis for the European Union (EU), which was established in 1993 following ratification of the Maastricht Treaty. The treaty called for a strengthened European parliament, the creation of a central European bank and common currency, and a common defense policy. In addition to a single European common market, member states would also participate in a larger common market, called the European Economic Area. Austria, Finland, and Sweden became members of the EU in 1995. In 2009, the EEC was absorbed into the EU’s framework. As of 2020, the EU had 27 member states. 

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Yugoslavia joins the Axis Powers


Year
1941
Month Day
March 25

Yugoslavia, despite an early declaration of neutrality, signs the Tripartite Pact, forming an alliance with Axis powers Germany, Italy and Japan.

A unified nation of Yugoslavia, an uneasy federation of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, was a response to the collapse of the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires at the close of World War I, both of which had previously contained parts of what became Yugoslavia. A constitutional monarchy, Yugoslavia built friendships with France and Czechoslovakia during the years between the world wars. With the outbreak of World War II, and the Anschluss (“union”) between Austria and Germany, pressure was placed on Yugoslavia to more closely ally itself Germany, despite Yugoslavia’s declared neutrality. But fear of an invasion like that suffered by France pushed Yugoslavia into signing a “Friendship Treaty”—something short of a formal political alliance—on December 11, 1940.

With the war spreading to the Balkans after the invasion of Greece by Italy, it was important to Hitler that the Axis powers have an ally in the region that would act as a bulwark against Allied encroachment on Axis territory. Meeting on February 14, 1941, Adolf Hitler proved unable to persuade Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Cvetkovic to formally join the Axis. The next day, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill contacted the Yugoslav regent, Prince Paul, in an effort to encourage him to remain firm in resisting further German blandishments. It was essential to the Allies that Yugoslavia cooperate with Anglo-Greek forces in fending off an Axis conquest of Greece.

But with King Boris of Bulgaria caving into Germany, Prince Paul felt the heat of the Nazis, and on March 20 he asked the Yugoslav Cabinet for their cooperation in allowing the Germans access to Greece through Yugoslavia. The Cabinet balked, and four ministers resigned in protest at the suggestion. This gesture failed to prevent Prime Minister Cvetkovic from finally signing the Tripartite Pact in Vienna on March 25, 1941.

Within two days, the Cvetkovic government was overthrown by a unified front of peasants, the church, unions and the military—an angry response to the alliance with Germany. The new government, led by Air Force Gen. Dusan Simovic, immediately renounced the Tripartite Pact. In less than two weeks, Germany invaded the nation and occupied it by force.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. leads march against the Vietnam War


Year
1967
Month Day
March 25

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., leads a march of 5,000 antiwar demonstrators in Chicago. In an address to the demonstrators, King declared that the Vietnam War was “a blasphemy against all that America stands for.” King first began speaking out against American involvement in Vietnam in the summer of 1965. 

In addition to his moral objections to the war, he argued that the war diverted money and attention from domestic programs to aid the black poor. He was strongly criticized by other prominent civil rights leaders for attempting to link civil rights and the antiwar movement.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King, Jr.

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“Wise Men” advise President Johnson to negotiate peace in Vietnam


Year
1968
Month Day
March 25

After being told by Defense Secretary Clark Clifford that the Vietnam War is a “real loser,” President Johnson, still uncertain about his course of action, decides to convene a nine-man panel of retired presidential advisors. The group, which became known as the “Wise Men,” included the respected generals Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgway, distinguished State Department figures like Dean Acheson and George Ball, and McGeorge Bundy, National Security advisor to both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. 

After two days of deliberation the group reached a consensus: they advised against any further troop increases and recommended that the administration seek a negotiated peace. Although Johnson was initially furious at their conclusions, he quickly came to believe that they were right. On March 31, Johnson announced on television that he was restricting the bombing of North Vietnam to the area just north of the Demilitarized Zone. Additionally, he committed the United States to discuss peace at any time or place. Then Johnson announced that he would not pursue reelection for the presidency.

Also on this day: A Harris Poll reports that in the past six weeks “basic” support for the war among Americans declined from 74 percent to 54 percent. The poll also revealed that 60 percent of those questioned regarded the Tet Offensive as a defeat of U.S. objectives in Vietnam. Despite Gen. William Westmoreland’s assurances in late 1967 that the United States was making headway in the war, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had launched a massive offensive during the Tet holiday that began in late January 1968. Although the communist forces were soundly defeated during this offensive, the scope and extent of the attacks won the communists a major psychological victory in the United States, where the events of Tet confirmed a growing disenchantment with the seemingly never-ending war for increasing numbers of Americans.

READ MORE: How the Vietnam War Ratcheted Up Under 5 U.S. Presidents

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Sugar Ray Robinson defeats Carmen Basilio for middleweight title


Year
1958
Month Day
March 25

On March 25, 1958, Sugar Ray Robinson defeats Carmen Basilio to regain the middleweight championship. It was the fifth and final title of his career. Robinson is considered by many to be the greatest prizefighter in history. No less an authority than heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali has said, “My idol will always be Sugar Ray Robinson, who was, and remains, one of the best pound-for-pound fighters to have ever lived in this century.”

Sugar Ray Robinson was born Walker Smith, Jr. in Ailey, Georgia, on May 3, 1921. Smith got his boxing name when he borrowed his friend Ray Robinson’s Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) card to enter a boxing tournament at the age of 16. He won that tournament and, still using the assumed name, turned professional in 1940, winning his debut bout–the first of 40 consecutive victories. Robinson won his first championship in 1946 when he defeated Tommy Bell for the welterweight title, which he held for five years. The next year, at the height of his boxing career, Robinson had a premonition before a fight with Jimmy Doyle that he might kill his opponent. After being convinced to enter the ring, Robinson defeated Doyle, who sustained injuries in the match that led to his death.

Robinson did not lose a professional fight until 1950, when he faced Jake LaMotta as a middleweight. LaMotta was a feared puncher with an iron jaw, and he outweighed Robinson by 16 pounds. In their first of six fights, he knocked Robinson down and out-pointed him on the judges’ scorecards. Robinson, however, would defeat LaMotta in each of their next five fights, including a 1951 drubbing dubbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, during his famed 91-fight winning streak. The 1951 fight was portrayed in Martin Scorsese’s 1980 LaMotta biopic Raging Bull.

Robinson retired in 1952, and went on to try his hand as a dancer and bandleader in his adopted hometown of Harlem. He returned to the ring in 1955, out of shape and sluggish, but still good enough to regain the middleweight title. He lost the title in 1957 to Gene Fullmer, who knocked him down for the first time since LaMotta sent him to the floor six years earlier. Robinson defeated Fullmer in their rematch, but then lost the title to Carmen Basilio, a steady puncher whose claim to fame was that he had never been knocked down. Going into their championship rematch, held this day in 1958, the once-indomitable Sugar Ray was a 2-to-1 underdog.

Robinson and Basilio traded punches for the majority of the match, with Robinson closing Basilio’s left eye completely by the seventh round. (Basilio later said that he could not see after the fourth round.) In the ninth round, Basilio came out attacking, and Robinson stopped slugging and started to box, dancing and jabbing at Basilio. This was the last great fight of Robinson’s career, and he showcased all of his veteran skills, avoiding Basilio’s punches and delivering a stunner in the 15th that nearly knocked Basilio down. In the end, the three judges awarded Robinson the victory and his fifth middleweight title, a record for any men’s division.

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U.S. Customs seizes copies of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”


Year
1955
Month Day
March 25

The U.S. Customs Department confiscates 520 copies of Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl, which had been printed in England. Officials alleged that the book was obscene.

City Lights, a publishing company and bookstore in San Francisco owned by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, proceeded to publish the book in the fall of 1956. The publication led to Ferlinghetti’s arrest on obscenity charges. Ferlinghetti was bailed out by the American Civil Liberties Union, which led the legal defense. Nine literary experts testified at the trial that the poem was not obscene, and Ferlinghetti was found not guilty.

Howl, which created a literary earthquake among the literary community when Ginsberg first read the poem in 1955, still stands as an important monument to the countercultural fervor of the late 1950s and ’60s. Ginsberg stayed at the forefront of numerous liberal movements throughout his life and became a well-loved lecturer at universities around the country. He continued to write and read poetry until his death from liver cancer in 1997.

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Icelandic pop singer Björk makes splash at the Oscars


Year
2001
Month Day
March 25

To some, Oscar night is more about the fashion than the awards themselves. Much of the audience tunes in to see who looks fabulous, who takes the biggest risks, and–of course–who’s the most egregious fashion disaster. Of the latter, the infamous “swan dress” worn by the Icelandic pop singer Björk at the 73rd annual Academy Awards on March 25, 2001 is among the most notorious.

Born and raised in Rekjavik, Björk won a radio contest at age 11 and received a contract to record her first album, released in 1977. She first gained international notice as a member of the successful guitar rock band the Sugarcubes, then launched a solo career in the early 1990s. After three acclaimed albums, Debut (1993), Post (1995) and Homogenic (1997), Björk’s fame had reached cultish proportions by the end of the decade. She was working with the Danish film director Lars von Trier (best known for 1996’s Breaking the Waves) on the score for his next movie, Dancer in the Dark, when von Trier asked her to play the lead character, Selma.

A Czechoslovakian immigrant who works in a factory in Washington State during the 1960s, Selma suffers from a hereditary disorder that is gradually making her go blind. She escapes her daily reality by performing in community theater productions and watching movie musicals with her friend Kathy (Catherine Deneuve), who describes to her what is happening on the screen. Björk earned critical praise for her portrayal of Selma (writing in the New York Times, A.O. Scott called her performance “miraculous”) as well as the polarizing film’s only Oscar nomination, in the Best Original Song category.

On Oscar night, the ever-quirky Icelandic singer turned heads by showing up on the red carpet in an outfit resembling a dead swan. Over a nude body stocking and above a large white tutu-like skirt, the swan’s neck was draped around Björk’s shoulders like a shawl, with its head lying on her chest. Björk took the stage to perform her nominated song, “I’ve Seen It All,” which lost in its category to Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed,” from Wonder Boys.

READ MORE: Academy Award Winners Who Rejected Their Statues

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