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SWEATSHOPS TO LOFTS
Luther Bradley, $acred Motherhood, 1907. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.
The garment industry started in tenement sweatshops on the Lower East Side with their crowded and unsanitary working conditions. Reformers such as Luther Bradley, whose poster $acred Motherhood was a powerful indictment of the industry, successfully advocated to ban production in residential tenements. As a result, from the 1890s, manufacturing moved into loft buildings located mostly on or near Broadway and Washington Square or near Union Square, such as those illustrated here in the 1890 Real Estate Record and Builders Guide.
In these factories, garment workers manufactured coats and suits, dresses, and, most famously, shirtwaists (a blouse of simple and functional design popular in the early 20th century). An estimated 40,000 women were employed in over 400 waist factories in New York. Early lofts were fireproof buildings of up to twelve stories. Standards for worker safety were minimal, as became obvious in 1911, when the factory of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company caught fire and 146 workers died.
Triangle Waist Company Factory After the Fire, 1911. Courtesy of Library of Congress.
The maps at the back of the case trace both the northward movement of the garment industry and the increasing number of small individual shops. In 1912, many relatively large companies, with 100-200 employees, were located around 23rd Street. By 1922, many small companies proliferated in the area, and just as the Garment District was beginning its rise, a new cluster of larger employers clustered north of 34th Street on Seventh Avenue in the new the Garment Center Capitol.
"Location of Plants in the Women's Garment Industry, 1900-1922." Regional Survey of New York and Its Environs, Volume 1B: Food, Clothing and Textile Industries, Wholesale Markets and Retail Shopping and Financial Districts, 1928, pp 74-75. Courtesy of the Regional Plan Association