A sign, a door, a connection to past tragedy

“When newspapers reported in 1991 that a fire in a Hamlet, North Carolina, chicken-processing plant had killed 25 workers who were trapped by locked doors, labor historians  recalled the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City, in which 146 garment workers were killed. It was a tragedy that helped bring about modern worker-safety laws.

“We have very little [at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History]  that tells the Triangle story and didn’t want to leave the curators of the future with as little about Hamlet. And so a trip to Hamlet, along with extensive negotiations with state and federal officials, secured a factory sign, one of the infamous locked doors, and other artifacts.”

— From “What Do We Keep?” by curators Steven Lubar and Peter Liebhold in American Heritage, spring 1999

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