The New York Capitol Fire

On March 29, 1911, just days after the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, a terrible inferno raged at the New York State Capitol Building. Together, these two fires left scars on New York history, but they also brought about profound changes to fire prevention regulations that have since saved countless lives nationwide. As the New York State Museum commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, WMHT presents this documentary about the New York Capitol fire—a fire which took its toll via the destruction of irreplaceable historical documents, and which came to be known as the greatest library fire disaster of modern times.

Drawing on interviews, archival materials and reenactments, this WMHT documentary is presented in collaboration with the New York State Museum, the New York State Archives, the Albany Institute, the New York State Library, the City of Albany and the Commission on the Restoration of the Capitol.

Get 'The Capitol Fire' on DVD

About the Fire

The New York Capitol was declared complete by Gov. Theodore Roosevelt in 1899. It had been under construction for more than 25 years and had cost $25 million (or, approximately half a billion dollars by today's currency). It was admired as one of the most beautiful buildings in America and it housed invaluable archives, but all of that changed on one fiery morning in 1911 as ashes filled the skies of Albany, N.Y.

By the time the fire was put out, the west side of the Capitol's magnificent architecture had been destroyed and the library lost 450,000 books, 270,000 manuscripts and nearly one million catalogue cards. Amazingly, some priceless relics survived the blaze, such as the original manuscript of President George Washington's farewell address, President Abraham Lincoln's original Emancipation Proclamation and the original copies of the New York State Constitution.

Educational Resources

'American Experience: Triangle Fire' Teacher's Discussion Guide
Intended to spark discussion of and reflection on the deadliest workplace accident in New York history, this guide can be used by educators, students, and other viewers as a starting point from which to discuss and analyze the Triangle fire and its dramatic aftermath.

PBS Teachers on Fire Safety
Lesson plans and activities related to fire safety for grades K-12.

PBS Teachers on Labor History
Lesson plans, activities and video clips on the history of the U.S. labor movement for grades 6-12.

PBS Learning Media on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Disaster
Video segment and lesson plan from the documentary 'The Jewish Americans' outlining the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City.

PBS Learning Media High School Core Curriculum
Multimedia resources on 'The Rise of American Business, Industry and Labor 1865-1920.'

PBS Learning Media on Industrialism
Multimedia resources on 'Adjusting Society to Industrialism: American People and Places.'

PBS Learning Media K-8 Core Curriculum
Multimedia resources on 'Immigration and the Immigration Experience.'

Support Provided by

Visit the New York State Professional Fire Fighters online


Visit The Bender Family Foundation online


Visit CSEA NY online


Visit TD Bank online