The Eastland and the Titanic

Published August 10, 2009

July 24, 2009 was the 94th anniversary of the capsizing of the Eastland in the Chicago River. The short story in that day’s Tribune did a good job on the basis facts but failed 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.

A popular misperception that persists even today is that there was insufficient lifeboat capacity on the Titanic. That led to a political movement called “lifeboats for all” as a way to increase jobs for the seamen’s union on board U.S. ships, according to an editorial in The New York Times of January 13, 1914. However, fully one-third of the above average boatage capacity was left unused in the evacuation of the Titanic because there was not enough time to fill the boats to full capacity.

The installation of the extra lifeboats and life rafts on the Eastland just before the July 24 excursion 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 any of the lifeboats or life rafts. With 844 dead, the Eastland became the greatest Chicago disaster in terms of loss of life.

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.

Jim Johnston ([email protected]) is an economic advisor to The Heartland Institute.