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On July 24, 1915 the cruise ship Eastland capsized in the Chicago River between LaSalle and Clark streets. The Eastland was about to take Western Electric employees on a day trip to the Indiana Dunes. It was the worst disaster ever to hit Chicago with 844 lives lost.
Newspaper coverage then and now, typically fail to mention the important connection between the Eastland disaster in 1915 and the Titanic sinking in 1912, which was the subject of George Hilton’s 1995 book Eastland; Legacy of the Titanic.
The popular misperception that persists even today, was the supposed lack of lifeboat capacity on the Titanic. While that was true, it was also true that one-third of the Titanic’s life boat capacity was unused because there was not enough time after the Titanic struck the iceberg to fill the boats to full capacity. The presumed lack of lifeboat capacity led to a world-wide political movement called “lifeboats for all.” In the United States the cause was taken up by Wisconsin Republican Sen. Robert La Follette as a way to increase the jobs for the seamen’s union on board U.S. ships, according to an editorial in The New York Times of January 13, 1914.
In compliance with the La Follette Seamen’s Act of 1915 extra lifeboats and life rafts were installed on the Eastland just before the July 24 excursion. This made the already top heavy ship completely unstable with a full load of passengers. The irony was that the capsizing of the Eastland happened so fast there was no time to use the extra lifeboats or life rafts.
Thus, we had a government “solution” to a nonexistent problem that caused a subsequent disaster. Does that ever happen today? Think global warming, health care “reform” and economic stimulus.