Tipping Points: Size, Safety, Concrete, and Capacity

Tipping Point #1: Size

Built narrow for speed, the ship was labeled “Cranky,” because its dimensions caused it to roll, or list, until it gained enough speed.

  • Width: About the length of a school bus. (38 ft.)

  • Length: Almost the length of a football playing field. (265 ft.)

  • Height: About 4 stories tall. (45 ft.)

Tipping Point #2: Safety

Congress passed LaFollette’s Seaman’s Act of 1915 as a result of the Titanic's sinking in 1912. It included a “Lifeboats for All” provision. As a result, just days before the Eastland Disaster, 3 extra lifeboats and 6 more life rafts were installed on an already top-heavy ship.

Added 8 – 15 tons to the uppermost deck

Tipping Point #3: Concrete

In the months leading up to the summer sailing season of 1915, repairs to the dining room’s damaged wood floors and the gangway entrances, where water sometimes flowed in, included the use of concrete. On the middle or ‘tween deck where the dining room was located, 2 inches of concrete was spread 40 – 50 feet in length over the entire width of the ship and then was covered in linoleum. On the main deck, the entrances were reinforced in the same way.

Added 30-57 tons to ‘tween and main decks

Tipping Point #4: Capacity

July 24, 1915 would be the first time after these renovations that the SS Eastland carried the newly increased passenger load of 2,500.

Nearly 1/3 of those passengers would die

Capsized! The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster by @ChicagoReviewPress arrives July 1, 2018. Preorder now wherever books are sold.

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That's the usual response when I tell people that I have a new book coming out. Actually, first they just scrunch up their faces and look puzzled! So here are the facts:

When? July 24, 1915

Where? Chicago, Illinois

What happened? The SS Eastland capsized while still tied to a dock on the Chicago River, in 20 feet of water.

How many passengers aboard? 2,501

How many died? 844

Who were they? Mostly immigrant factory workers and their families. 90% were women and children.

Why? It's too complicated for a list, but...

Watch for my weekly blog and I'll tell you everything you need to know before you read:

CAPSIZED!

The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster.

What can you do?

In March of 1915, three years after the RMS Titanic tragedy, Wisconsin Senator Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollete saw his piece of legislation, The Seaman’s Act of 1915, become law. This well intentioned law was designed to save lives aboard ships by insuring enough lifeboat seating for passengers and crew. “Lifeboats for All,” was the rallying cry for this change.

St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company would comply with the new law by installing three additional lifeboats and six rafts to the hurricane deck of the Eastland. With a length of 265 feet, and a bow (width) of 38 feet, the ship was already top-heavy. Those life-saving boats added between eight and fifteen tons to the top deck of the ship weeks prior to its capsizing in the Chicago River. The extra boats allowed the company to comply with the new law, but also raise the passenger count to 2,500. More paying customers meant greater profit. July 24, 1915 would be the first time that the SS Eastland sailed with the increased capacity after those modifications had been made.

Not one of those lifeboats or rafts could be launched at the time of the capsizing, as the ship rolled over in the river while still tied to the dock. 844 people, mostly women and children, would die that day. Many were trapped below deck or drowned in the river.

The intention of the Seaman’s Act of 1915 was to save lives. In the case of the SS Eastland, and by virtue of the additional weight added to top deck of the ship, “Lifeboats for All” was just one of several factors that contributed to the worst loss of life on the Great Lakes.