The Year Was 1911

The year was 1911 and on 25 March, 146 young, mostly female immigrant workers, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City. Just ten minutes before quitting time, a fire broke out. Fed by textiles, the fire quickly spread throughout the upper three stories of the building. With only one inadequate interior fire escape, an out of order elevator and locked stairwells, workers were trapped. Many chose to leap to their deaths rather than die in the flames. The tragedy brought national attention to sweatshop workers and fire safety issues, resulting in new legislation.

Fire also gutted much of downtown Bangor, Maine, that year. The fire began in a hayshed and aided by strong winds eventually scorched fifty-five acres, leaving seventy-five families homeless, and destroying businesses, churches, and government buildings. The glow of the flames could be seen 107 miles away in Brunswick.

On 11 November (11/11/11), weather was the cause of widespread disaster in the Midwestern and Great Plains states. Oklahoma City saw both a record high and a record low temperature within twenty-four hours as temperatures topped at 83 degrees before plunging to 14 degrees.  

The plunging temperatures were the result of a “Blue Norther,” which is when frigid Arctic air plunges down into the North American continent. The clash with warmer, moist air fueled blizzards in some states, and severe weather, including tornadoes in much of the central U.S. A tornado swept through Rock County, Wisconsin, killing eight people and leaving $1,000,000 in property damage. The survivors of the storm were left shivering as the temperatures that night dipped to nearly zero degrees.

Further south, Mexico was still engulfed in revolution and in 1911, revolutionary forces took control of several northern cities, including Ciudad Juarez. President Porfino Diaz resigned and fled to Europe. The Mexican Revolution would continue though with dissention among the various revolutionary factions and between 1910 and 1920 nearly 900,000 Mexicans would immigrate to the U.S.

In Liverpool, England, an uprising of seamen launched a strike movement that would eventually involve 70,000 workers in various transport positions. Wages had dropped 10 percent between 1900 and 1910 against a backdrop of a higher cost of living–laborers were feeling the pinch. The strike began with two seamen and the Transport Workers Federation quickly called for its members to support them. Workers in various trades related to the transport industry responded and the pressure forced the shipping companies to come to an agreement. The local movement spread nationwide and was followed by waves of strikes throughout the years preceding World War I.

In 1911, Charles F. Kettering filed a patent for the first practical electric automotive starter. Prior to that automobiles were started with a hand crank, and kickbacks would sometimes result in injuries. It would first become available on commercial automobiles with the 1912 Cadillac.

With no automatic starter, at the first Indianapolis 500 held in 1911, they didn’t hear the trademark line, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” Racers probably didn’t mind though, as they gathered to compete for a $14,250 purse. With the exception of the years during World War I and World War II, the Indy 500 has been held continuously on Memorial Day weekend since then.

Click here for a printer friendly version of this article.

(Sorry, for the link problem. It should be working now. -JSS)

6 thoughts on “The Year Was 1911

  1. I love this feature & print out each one. However, the “printer friendly version” brings up “Weekly Planner: Catch up on photo labeling…….”

  2. I like to print the “Year” columns, but it seems like the format is never the same. For some reason the last few have printed in very small print. Is anyone else having this problem?

    Jo Ann Collier

  3. For Jo Ann: I have a cataract and need larger print so I copy and paste into my wordprocessing software, change the font, clean up the copy and print in whatever size I need.

  4. Don’t understand why, when I click within the paragraph about Blue Northers, in the 1911 article, I get taken to Ancestry.Com with an offer to subscribe. This is not what I expected. I thought I’d be taken to another site which would tell more about the storms. Did I do something wrong?

  5. I think these articles are extremely interesting but, like others, would really appreciate them being more global. Interesting and important things happen in places other than the United States.
    For those who are having difficulting printing them, I have only ever copied and pasted into Word – no problems whatever, and you can change the layout, font and/or size if you wish, and in my case I go through and ‘anglaisise’ the spelling so it reads right!!!
    Keep up the good work, it is really appreciated.

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