dsteffen, Mrs. d has not hesitated to point out for nearly forty years now, has no sense of fun. It has always, therefore, seemed somewhat incongruous that for most of those forty years the planning and organizing of fun family activities has been left in the hands of fun-impaired dsteffen. With totally predictable results.
But no more. This year -- with no kids around home anymore to complain about how bored they are, how lame this is, how they didn't want to come in the first place -- Mrs. d has decided to seize the bull by the horns and lay claim to the fun-planning mantle for herself. The itinerary will be set, necessary reservations made, and dsteffen will be informed when to be ready and what to wear.
Works for me.
The first item on Mrs. d's agenda of Fun Stuff to Do? We'll be heading up to Chicago in a few weeks and board an excursion boat for some sight-seeing on Lake Michigan. All I can say to that is,
| OH NOES!!!!!!
The S. S. Eastland
It's a big day for the families of the workers at the Western Electric Company, the manufacturing arm of the Bell telephone monopoly. July 24, 1915 the company is shut down for the company picnic, this year an excursion to Michigan City, Indiana for a day of feasting, parades, games and activities. They will board ships on the Chicago River near the Clark Street bridge early this morning for the trip across Lake Michigan.
July 24 dawns unusually cool for Chicago in mid-summer. Shortly after 6:30 a.m., expectant picnickers, bundled against the early morning chill, begin boarding the first of five excursion ships, the S. S. Eastland, once considered the "slickest, neatest, most glamorous ship ... sailing on the Great Lakes". After an initial delay because the ship is listing so far to starboard that the angle prevents access to the gangway, boarding goes smoothly and quickly, the ship is soon filled and further boarding cut off. Exactly how many are on board will be a matter of dispute for 95 years. The company and the government navigation inspectors who monitored the boarding insist the ship carries no more than the 2500-passenger rated capacity. Others, however, will claim as many as 4,000 are packed onto the ship's decks. Throughout the loading, since righting from the earlier starboard list, the ship has continued to exhibit instability, listing to port at angles estimated from seven to twenty degrees at various times and resisting the crew's attempts to right her.
Passengers scramble to safety on the side of the over-turned ship's hull.
As the ship begins to pull away from the wharf about 7:25 a.m. the attempts to balance the ship by pumping water into the ballast tanks proves futile. The list increases to 25, 30, 35, 45 degrees. Water begins to pour in through the port gangway, then through the scuppers as the list increases, then through portholes on the main deck. Bottles and glasses fall from tables, then dishes from shelves. A piano on the promenade deck breaks free and skids across the deck, crashing into the port-side wall. A refrigerator in the bar falls over and pins one or two women under it. Even as they are being ordered to move to starboard, passengers lose their footing and begin sliding across the deck to port, while those topside on the starboard side begin to jump to the wharf or into the river, further worsening the imbalance of the ship.
Just before 7:30, twenty feet from the wharf, the crew loses the battle and the ship rolls over on its side in the murky, polluted water of the Chicago River.
Hundreds of people are trapped in the quickly-flooding lower decks or pinned under the ship. The newspaper accounts of the day exhibit the customary confusion with wild estimates of the feared death toll. The capsizing happens so quickly that no lifeboats are launched or life jackets handed out. People who swim free of the ship struggle to stay afloat in their heavy, wet clothing.
"I shall never be able to forget what I saw. People were struggling in the water, clustered so thickly that they literally covered the surface of the river. A few were swimming; the rest were floundering about, some clinging to a life raft that had floated free, others clutching at anything that they could reach - at bits of wood, at each other, grabbing each other, pulling each other down, and screaming! The screaming was the most horrible of all."
VirtualChicagoland.com: The Eastland Disaster
Passengers make their way from the hull of the Eastland to another vessel
Rescue efforts begin immediately as passengers clamber onto the side of the overturned hull or are pulled onto boats which come to the rescue. At the same time, the recovery of bodies begins. Nets are hastily strung across the river to prevent bodies from floating away. Nearby warehouses, the Sangamon Street armory -- any building with ample open floor space -- are pressed into service as makeshift morgues; hundreds of sheet-draped corpses are laid out in rows on the floor and the drawn-out process of identifying the dead begins.
Boarding of the ships has taken place on a first-come basis; there has been no assignment to given ships or any passenger lists created. No one knows with any certainty who or how many people were on the ship. In the confusion following the capsizing, many of the rescued have simply gone home. Early newspaper reports declare as many as 1,600 dead. Divers explore the ship's lower decks and bring out bodies, but no one knows how many might be pinned beneath the ship. And among the dead at least 22 families have been wiped out entirely, some with no relatives in the area left to identify their bodies.
The body of a woman is pulled from the hull of the ship
The official death toll of the Eastland
is set at 844, the worst loss of life in a single incident in Chicago's history. Many of the dead are children. Criminal charges and hundreds of lawsuits are filed against the company, the crew, the city, and the government officials responsible for monitoring the Great Lakes ships, but no one will ever be held criminally responsible, and in the civil actions, which will drag out for twenty years, the courts will throw out almost all of the suits. The company's liability will be limited to the value of the ship's hull, about $50,000. Of that, $35,000 will go to the company that raises the ship from the river's bottom; virtually nothing will go to the victims' families.
As a result of the capsizing of the Eastland and several non-passenger ships over the ensuing years, ship stability rules and evaluations, transfered to a new agency, the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, became increasingly sophisticated and restrictive. Qualified naval architects were employed to assess ships' plans for seaworthiness and passenger capacity. The regulatory arrangement for excursion vessels, with a complicated division of duties between the Navigation Bureau and the Steamboat Inspection Service, was brought to an end and all duties are consolidated under one department, eventually the Coast Guard.
The significance of the Eastland today, however, is not so much regulation that would be implemented as a result of the tragedy, but regulation that had already come to be, and how the event was to be used in a future ideological battle. To explore that story, we need to go back just over three years to a moonless April night in 1912 when the most famous ocean liner ever to strike an iceberg slipped beneath the waves of the North Atlantic carrying 1,512 people to their deaths.
The Sinking of the Titanic
The scandal that most outraged the public at the sinking of the Titanic
was the fact that the ship carried lifeboats for only about a third of her rated capacity, due to a
18-year-old law that set the number of lifeboats based on tonnage rather than passenger capacity. The Titanic
fell into the top category, "over 10,000 tons"; at 46,328 tons, the Titanic
was 4-1/2 times that limit, with a correspondingly larger passenger capacity. The law, written before the capacity of ocean liners exploded due to the demand created by the immigration waves of the 1890s and first decades of the 1900s, did not require
the owners of the Titanic to provide enough life boats for everyone, and since the law didn't force them to, they didn't. That
oversight was soon to be corrected.
In 1914, in direct response to the Titanic tragedy, an international agreement, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, was proclaimed, providing that ships be equipped lifeboats for all passengers.
While the 1914 SOLAS treaty proposed lifeboats for all, the real work of enacting provisions to require them was left to the individual signatory nations. In the United States, the Senate actually settled on weaker provisions, requiring that life boats be provided for 75 percent of passengers, with life rafts or collapsible boats for the rest. For the summer excursion trade on the Great Lakes, the requirements were weakened even further, requiring life boats for only 40 percent of the passengers, with life rafts making up the difference. In response to agitation from seamen's unions, Congress also included provisions improving working conditions and giving crewmen greater power to organize, and prevented ship companies from using mutiny charges to quash union organizing and strike actions. The law was passed in 1915 as the Act to Promote the Welfare of American Seamen in the Merchant Marine of the United States, more popularly known as the La Follette Seaman's Act for its sponsor, Progressive Wisconsin senator Robert La Follette.
One of the witnesses giving testimony during hearings on the proposed legislation was Mr. A. A. Schantz of the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company. In the aftermath of the Eastland tragedy, Schantz recalled (not entirely accurately) his testimony before Congress, and screwed in the hook on which the modern anti-regulatory movement would hang its hat.
From what I have learned of the accident I am convinced that it was due in part at least, to the presence of life rafts and other heavy equipment required by the seamen’s law."
Schantz said. "When the bill was before congress we argued that some such accident was likely to occur, but they laughed at us. The boat was simply top-heavy and turned turtle—and accident that couldn’t have occurred had she been properly trimmed.
GenDisasters: Chicago, IL Eastland Disaster, June 1915
LaFollette's Seaman's Act, a law promoted by labor unions, sponsored by progressives, and opposed by an industry that warned it would have devastating consequences, passed into law March 4, 1915. One hundred thirty-two days later, the S. S. Eastland lay on its side in the Chicago River.
Ah, you can just picture them salivating, can't you?
Congress couldn’t stand still after the Titanic. Pinning the blame for the loss of life on the lifeboats, rather than the iceberg, Congress passed the La Follette Seamen’s Act of 1915 mandating boats and life rafts for all persons on board seafaring ships. The thinking goes that if every ship had a life boat seat for every passenger, no one would ever die in such a tragedy in the future. The public furor over the loss of the Titanic prevented consideration of the fact that most ships have no risk of colliding with icebergs because of their routes. Likewise, lifeboats are an ineffective remedy in many marine disasters because they would not be able to be launched. No matter, Congress "solved" the problem.
Let’s pause for a second here. Congress rushes onto the field to "solve" a problem it doesn’t really understand. Why doesn’t Congress understand the problem despite hearings and so on? Well, among other things, Congress lacked industry-specific know-how and expertise. It is better at identifying "effect" than "cause", and therein lies the problem. Consequently, Congress was looking for a particular answer, and tended to reject discordant data (like Mr. Schantz). When industry tried to advise Congress of the inadequacy of its solution, Congress knew better and brushed them off. After all, who has more integrity, Congress or the industry that "caused" the problem in the first place?
Amend the CPSIA: CPSIA – Has Congress Ever Done This Before? Ha!
(website opposed to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of. 2008)
A lot of the focus on the Eastland as an example of regulation with a disastrous outcome seems to come from a 1997 book by George W. Hilton titled Eastland: Legacy of the Titanic, which I confess I have not read. Based on reviews I've read, I suspect a lot of the internet postings on the Eastland that you'll encounter on anti-regulatory and right-wing blogs and websites are based on the book's arguments. Here's a suspected example:
In fact, it is one of those great ironies of history that the Eastland disaster was caused by the government's reaction to the sinking of the Titanic -- specifically, by the La Follette Seamen's Act of 1915, named for the "Progressive" Republican from Wisconsin, Senator Robert La Follette, which among other things required additional lifeboats and rafts on all American passenger ships. The mandate of the La Follette Act extended even to Great Lakes steamers, even though they were built differently -- their hulls had much shallower drafts -- than trans-Atlantic liners, making them unstable and top-heavy when loaded with the extra lifeboats and rafts the Act required. The owners of the Eastland, in partial satisfaction of the provisions of the La Follette Act (which was set to come into force later in the year 1915), added a number of boats and rafts to the ship's top deck, just three weeks before the Western Electric picnic. The addition of those lifeboats, which were never used -- the ship had capsized and sunk too quickly for them to be any use -- was a crucial cause of the disaster. Something caused the ship to list to one side; and before it even left its dock, the ship overturned, trapping many of the victims in the lower decks. "Whether people rushed to one side to watch a fistfight, which is one story, or to watch another boat go by, it would not have happened [i.e., the ship would not have capsized] if she had had proper balance," Crowe has observed.
In other words, the Eastland disaster was caused by bad governmental policy -- by a foolish law, passed hastily by Congress at the insistence of demagogic politicians like Senator La Follette, in response to public anxiety about maritime safety regulations in the wake of the Titanic disaster.
Mayerblog: Remembering the Eastland Disaster
Well, gee. There you have it. Meddling government that thinks it knows what's best for us passes ill-considered law that hamstrings business and results in needless loss of life. quod erat demonstrandum, right?
Not so fast.
Great Lakes ships, of necessity, were prone to being top heavy. Often docking in rivers rather than on the lakes, they typically have narrower beams than ocean-going vessels. Additionally, they sometimes operate in relatively shallow waters or have to clear sand bars in navigating on the lakes. A lot of the ship is out of the water, and as a result the ships have a tendency to instability.
When it was launched at Port Huron, Michigan in May, 1903, the Eastland was one of the largest passenger ships on the Great Lakes, with a licensed capacity of 3,300, and the first passenger ship built in Port Huron in twenty years. Before her delivery, further modifications were made to the 265-feet-long, 38-feet-wide ship to increase her speed in order to meet a requirement of the contract. From the very beginning, she had exhibited more tendency to instability than most other ships. In the first month of regular service, the ship listed far enough to take on water through its gangways. A year later, she listed sharply to port and then back to starboard on a return trip from South Haven, Michigan. As a result of the incident, regulators reduced her capacity to 2,800.
In September of 1904, after the excursion season ended, the Eastland was put into dry dock while modifications were made to the ship to reduce her draft to correct a problem she was having bottoming on sand bars in the South Haven area. The ship was already designed for a variable draft from 10 to 16 feet, controlled by manipulating the water levels in the ballast tanks. The modifications would presumably increase any tendency to top-heaviness.
The following year her owners, the Michigan Steamship Company, during a reorganization, sold the ship to the Chicago and South Haven Line, where she began service in 1906. In August of that year, with 2,530 passengers on board, the ship listed seriously enough that a formal complaint was filed; as a result of the subsequent investigation, regulators reduced her passenger capacity to 2,400.
The following year, the Eastland was transferred to the Lake Shore Navigation Company, operating out of Cleveland, where inspectors reported they kept a close eye on her due to her reputation for instability, and at times increased, then subsequently reduced her certified capacity; two years later the Eastland Navigation Company assumed ownership. The reputation of the ship had apparently preceded it; in 1910, the new owners felt compelled to place a challenge in two newspapers offering a $500.00 reward to anyone who could prove the Eastland was not seaworthy.
Two years later, the height of the ship's smokestacks was reduced by a third to try to combat top-heaviness. Later that year, additional lifeboats were later added as a result of the sinking of the Titanic. But in July, the ship's old problems manifested themselves again, as the ship reportedly listed first to port and then more sharply to starboard. Subsequently, the passenger capacity was again reduced, and because she did not carry enough lifeboats for all passengers, was required to remain within five miles of shore and in water shallow enough that, if she sank, portions of the hull would remain above water. In 1913, John D. York, an expert on naval design, wrote the U. S. harbor inspector to complain that he believed the Eastland was un-seaworthy and dangerous. That year the ship was put up for sale; in 1914 it was purchased by the St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company. She went into service out of Chicago with a capacity of 2,000.
In 1915, the Eastland underwent repairs to deal with rotting wood on two decks, during which several tons of concrete were added to reinforce the main deck and the "'tween" deck. In addition, the ship also added three additional lifeboats and six life rafts to bring it into compliance with the new Seaman's Act, although the law would not take effect for several months. (Let's repeat that, shall we? Three (3) (III) life boats. Six (6) (XI) life rafts. Tons of concrete.) And this extra safety equipment was added in anticipation of a request to the regulators to increase the passenger capacity of the ship.
Inexplicably (and suspiciously -- bribery was alleged but never proven), despite the added weight and the ship's reputation for instability, an inspection over the July 4th weekend resulted in an amended certificate being issued raising the capacity from 2,183 to 2,570 -- 2500 passengers and 70 crew. But for the next three weeks, the Eastland's largest payload would be 1,123 prior to the day of the Western Electric picnic.
This is the incident the anti-regulatory crowd has adopted as proof that government regulation not only doesn't work, but does more harm than good? Three extra lifeboats added to a notoriously unstable ship that never should have been operating with the kind of passenger load she carried that day? If this is the cause célèbre the rabid ant-government zealots intend to use to prove we'd be better off letting business have free reign to do whatever the hell they think is
in our best interest in their best interest most profitable all I can say is, "Bring it on."
Oddly enough, the Eastland was raised from the river bottom and put back into service, but not as a passenger vessel. It was acquired by the Illinois Naval Reserve and refitted as a gunboat. It served as a training vessel at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station for many years. Renamed the Wilmette, it was put into and taken out of mothballs on a couple of occasions before finally being retired for good in 1946 and scrapped the following year.
The Eastland Disaster Historical Society
WTTW Chicago Stories: The Eastland Disaster
Damn Interesting: The Fall of the Eastland
GenDisasters: Chicago, IL Eastland Disaster 1915
Genealogy Trails: The Eastland Disaster
House of Representatives, Committee on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries: Investigation of Accident to the Steamer "Eastland"
And that, dear Kossacks, is where regulation comes from -- not from bored bureaucrats sitting in an office in Washington trying to think up ways to make life miserable and expensive for some innocent and unsuspecting businessman, but from real human suffering and tragedy brought about, all too often, by people who shirk what should be obvious responsibilities, who neglect basic diligence, who sacrifice safety for profit. They bring suffering on those who trust them and their products, and society adopts measures to make sure it never happens again. We have to force them, through regulation, to behave as they should have been behaving all along. That's how regulation came to be.
Previous installments of How Regulation came to be: