The Hamlet Fire

The Hamlet Fire

A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives

Book - 2017
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Baker & Taylor
After spending several years talking to the survivors of the 1991 Imperial Foods fire, an industrial disaster in North Carolina, an award-winning historian presents a gripping social autopsy of this place and time that shows how cheap labor, cheap government and cheap food came together in a way that was bound for tragedy.

Perseus Publishing
A "gifted writer" (Chicago Tribune) uses a long forgotten factory fire in small-town North Carolina to show how cut-rate food and labor have become the new American norm

  • Previous books have gained major review attention: Bryant Simon’s work has been featured in the New Yorker, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Phoenix and AP. He has done dozens of national and local radio interviews, and appeared on BBC, CNN, HBO, Nightline, and Dateline NBC.
  • An engaged public intellectual who contributes to national media: His op-eds have appeared in the Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times (Room for Debate forum), Philadelphia Inquirer, The Root, and NewRepublic.com
  • Go-to-person: Reporters from around the world contact Simon to comment on casinos, urban development, branding, and coffee culture. This last year he fielded media inquiries about Donald Trump and Atlantic City. In fact his work was cited on Fresh Air this year. His research into the fire at Hamlet have already aroused the interest of the local media in North Carolina.
  • Speaking: Bryant Simon is a witty and charismatic public speaker who addresses academic conferences nationally and globally.
  • Affiliations: He is a member of the Southern Historical Association, Organization of American History Southern Labor History Association and Urban History Association. He has earned awards and honors from the Fulbright Commission, Humboldt Foundation, Urban History Association, Organization of American Historians, and the Smithsonian Institution.


  • "It is testament to Simon’s reportorial instincts and research that he has found this sprawling. . . story in the detritus of that now-forgotten fire. His trail from that day through poultry economics to a core of new American values is captivating and brilliantly conceived, and will provide readers with insights into our current national politics."
    The Washington Post

    For decades, the small, quiet town of Hamlet, North Carolina, thrived thanks to the railroad. But by the 1970s, it had become a postindustrial backwater, a magnet for businesses searching for cheap labor with little or almost no official oversight. One of these businesses was Imperial Food Products. The company paid its workers a dollar above the minimum wage to stand in pools of freezing water for hours on end, scraping gobs of fat off frozen chicken breasts before they got dipped in battered and fried into golden brown nuggets and tenders. If a worker complained about the heat or the cold or missed a shift to take care of their children or went to the bathroom too often they were fired. But they kept coming back to work because Hamlet was a place where jobs were scarce. Then, on the morning of September 3, 1991, the day after Labor Day, this factory that had never been inspected burst into flame. Twenty-five people—many of whom were black women with children, living on their own—perished that day behind the plant’s locked and bolted doors.

    Eighty years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, industrial disasters were supposed to have been a thing of the past. After spending several years talking to local residents, state officials, and survivors of the fire, award-winning historian Bryant Simon has written a vivid, potent, and disturbing social autopsy of this town, this factory, and this time that shows how cheap labor, cheap government, and cheap food came together in a way that was bound for tragedy.



    Baker
    & Taylor

    Describes the fire at the Imperial Food Products factory in 1991 that killed twenty-five people and examines how cut-rate food prices, poor governmental oversight, and cheap labor create a dangerous combination.

    Publisher: New York :, The New Press,, [2017]
    ISBN: 9781620972380
    1620972387
    Characteristics: 303 pages : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm

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