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This first chapter of the recently published book Crimes That Changed Our World: Tragedy, Outrage, and Reform, examines the process by which the tragic 1911 Triangle Factory Fire provoked enormous outrage that in turn created a local then national movement for workplace and building safety that ultimately became the foundation for today’s building safety codes. What is particularly interesting, however, is that the Triangle Fire was not the worst such tragedy in its day. Why should it be the one that ultimately triggers social progress?

The book has 21 chapters, each of which traces the tragedy-outrage-reform dynamic in a different context: from the war on drugs to the militarization of police, from domestic violence reform to three-strikes sentencing, from the creation of professional medical examiners to the establishment of the 9-1-1 emergency system. As the concluding chapter of the project makes clear, the dynamic of progress has many moving parts not all of which are rational and predictable.


Criminal law, law & society, public law & legal theory, trigger crimes, social outrage, politics, legislation, Triangle Shirtwaist, garment workers, immigrant women, fire safety, labor law, workplace safety, reform process, media coverage, political connections, social movements

Publication Citation

1911 Triangle Factory Fire: Building Safety Codes
, in Crimes That Changed Our World: Tragedy, Outrage, and Reform (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018).