Category Archives: History

Today is President George Washington’s Birthday (President’s Day)

 George Washington (1732–99) by Gilbert Stuart Photo: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)
George Washington (1732–99) by Gilbert Stuart
Photo: Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

Although today is referred to as “President’s Day” it is not a federal holiday by that name. It is officially designated as Washington’s Birthday under federal law. There was a movement to combine both Washington and Lincoln’s birthday (since they occur days apart) or honor the office of president. That never came to be. Instead in 1968 the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was past and came into force in 1971. That shifted most federal holidays to a Monday if it fell during the week. Washington’s Birthday name was not changed and so under federal law it is still Washington’s Birthday. However many states issue their own proclamations celebrating not only Washington but Lincoln and others from their own state. Advertisers have caught on as well. So today many call it President’s Day but who it commemorates beyond George Washington is up to the state governors.

The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize.
President George Washington,Farewell Address, 19 September 1799.

Recent Titanic News

1. Titanic Foundation Launches Tourism Development Plan(31 Jan 2018, Museums Association)
Titanic Foundation, the charity set up in 2007 to preserve and promote Belfast and Northern Ireland’s maritime and industrial heritage, has unveiled plans to further develop the Titanic Quarter’s tourism offer. The Titanic Quarter Destination Plan identifies 12 projects under three core themes – connectivity, visitors and heritage. Projects include the creation of an “outdoor museum”, the development of a Maritime Mile to link the waterfront from Donegall Quay to the tip of Queen’s Island, and the continued preservation and restoration of the area’s heritage assets.

2.Davenport Hotel Recreating Original Titanic Menu(26 Jan 2018, KXLY)
Chef Adam Swedberg and his team have selected five of the original 10 courses served aboard the Titanic. Guests will be allowed to sample and taste original recipes in a historic setting similar to what First Class passengers aboard the Titanic experienced. No reservations are required to enjoy this unique meal. The Palm Grill opens daily at 5 p.m. and closes at midnight. The 5-course dinner costs $50 per person and wine pairings with the meal are at an additional cost.

Titanic Wreck Bow
Image: Public Domain (NOAA-http://www.gc.noaa.gov/images/gcil/ATT00561.jpg)

3. Tickets for Dive to Titanic Wreck Are Up for Grabs — if you have $130K to spare (21 Jan 2018, Toronto Star)
Their $130,000 seats were priced at the inflation-adjusted cost of a first-class ticket for Titanic’s doomed maiden voyage, and help fund the company’s research. Each participant gets flown out for seven days on the chartered research vessel and at least one dive to the wreck site on a five-person sub lasting six to nine hours. “We have some folks who are mountain climbers, we have others who’ve been to the South Pole,” Rush said.
“One guy, I think he snowshoed to the North Pole. It’s a varied group, but I think the unifying characteristic is they’re adventurous.”

Illustration of Pulaski Explosion(1848)
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

4. Divers Believe They’ve Found Famed Luxury Ship That Sank In 1838 Off N.C. Coast (19 Jan 2018, Courier Tribune)
A luxury steamship that went to the bottom of the Atlantic in 1838 with half its affluent passengers may have been found 40 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The disappearance of the Pulaski remains one of the nation’s most dramatic and deadly maritime disasters, partly because half of the people on board died, but also because its passengers included some of the most prominent families in the southeast. Among those lost was New York Congressman William B. Rochester and six members of the Lamar family, then among the richest families in the southeast. The ship was bound for Baltimore from Savannah when it exploded around 11 p.m. on June 13, 1838. One hundred of the roughly 200 people on board died, including many who were scalded to death by steam. Newspaper accounts tell dramatic stories of “panicky passengers in their night clothes, seeking refuge on the promenade deck as the bow rose out of the water and ripped apart.”


Remembering The Telegraph

Samuel Morris,Paris,1840 Public Domain(Wikipedia)

For many of us it is hard to conceive a world without television, telephones, and the Internet. Sending important communications took time if significant distance was involved. And would increase exponentially if the recipient was on another continent. The speed of the horse, the foot, and how good the wind was would determine how quickly the message was delivered. Samuel Morse on 6 Jan 1838 demonstrated for the first time how electric impulse could transmit messages. He was not the only one who was working on the same concept but the first to get it beyond a concept to a working means of communication.

His prototype demonstrated the use of using dots and dashes to represent letters and numbers. In the demonstration of 1838, he showed that this method of communication was possible. Morse, who had attended Yale University interested in art and electricity, became intrigued when he learned coming home from Europe about the newly discovered electromagnet and decided to work on the telegraph. Convincing skeptics took some doing. Not many were convinced sending messages in this fashion were possible or practical. It required the use of telegraph lines that would transmit the data over long or short distances. And it meant people would have to be trained to understand this Morse code. Morse convinced U.S. Congress to fund construction of the first telegraph line between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland. The first telegram sent in May 1844 said: “What hath God wrought!”

Telegraph Connections (Telegraphen Verbindungen), 1891 Stielers Hand-Atlas, Plate No. 5, Weltkarte in Mercator projection Public Domain (Wikipedia)
Telegraph Connections (Telegraphen Verbindungen), 1891 Stielers Hand-Atlas, Plate No. 5, Weltkarte in Mercator projection
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Soon private companies would emerge using Morse’s patent to set up telegraph lines all over the American Northeast. Western Union, formerly called the New York and Mississippi Valley Company, completed the first transcontinental telegraph line in 1861. Telegraph systems would spread in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Underwater cables would connect both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Messages of all kinds could be sent by telegraph. Since telegraph companies charged by the word, messages became succinct no matter whether it was happy or sad news. The period was replaced in most messages with the word “stop” as that was free.

One of the chief constraints of the telegraph is that it relied on the telegraph line and undersea cables. Thus messages could be delayed or lost by downed poles, military actions, weather related issues, or problems in the receiving office. Radio telegraphy was developed by Guglielmo Marconi in 1895. Sending the same messages over the air meant they were no longer restricted to telegraph lines. But it too could have its problems as what happened with Titanic. You have messages get mixed and mashed up resulting inaccurate information being reported. Radio telegraphy would lead to radio transmission allowing voices to be heard for the first time and the radio would be born. Wireless telegraphy would continue for business and governments and develop ultimately into the radioteletype networks.

The old fashioned telegraph continued on. Western Union introduced the singing telegram in 1933 and was still a means of communication until after World War II. During the war the sight of a Western Union courier became dreaded because the War Department sent telegrams to families informing of a death or sometimes a serious injury. The scene in A League of Their Own where Tom Hanks grabs the telegram from the messenger so that he could deliver it was not made up but reflected what most knew telegrams would announce.

The old reliable rotary dial phone. The basic rotary dial had different looks but remained the same until the 1980’s when touch tone replaced it. A remarkably simple device that needed no batteries or internet connection.
Photo: R Sull (Wikimedia Commons)

The telephone though ultimately replaced the telegraph for most communications. When you could pick up a phone and tell someone important news, there was no need to go down to the Western Union office and pay by the word for a short succinct message when an inexpensive phone call would do it. Telegraph companies folded up, were bought up by larger companies, or completely rebranded. Today Western Union primarily transfers money (money orders, money transfers, and commercial transactions) and no longer performs any telegraph service.

The development of the telegraph allowed for more rapid dissemination of information unlike anything before. No longer were messages tied to the speed of ships, horses, trains and even feet. Major events could be learned quickly rather than weeks or months. It was a major technological step that unlocked other technologies that has changed the world dramatically.

Sources:
Samuel Morse (Encyclopedia Britanica)
Morse Code & the Telegraph (History.com)

Today is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day-“A Date Which Will Live In Infamy”

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

On this date in 1941, Japan launched a carrier based strike on U.S. military forces based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Their strategy was to use this attack to convince the country and its leaders that war with Japan would be futile. They achieved tactical surprise as no warning of an attack had yet been received. While decryption of their codes had revealed their intent, the warning did not reach Pearl Harbor until after the attack had begun. The Japanese legation in Washington did not deliver their government’s official response to a recent diplomatic exchange until after the attack due to problems in transcribing the message. The attack began at 07:55 local time (12:55 p.m. eastern standard time). It was early afternoon when President Roosevelt was notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the attack. There was some doubt among some staff as to the validity of the report but President Roosevelt believed it. And subsequent reports would show it was true. Radio was soon reporting on it as well and the entire nation soon learned of the shocking event that had taken place in the faraway location.

The purpose of the attack was to seriously cripple the U.S. naval and air operations (both the Navy and Army Air Corps). The surprise was effective and sank or crippled numerous American ships. However the jewels of the fleet were the aircraft carriers and they were not there. And the Japanese had no idea where they were. After conducting the first two strikes, a third strike was considered to more completely wipe out the storage, maintenance and dry dock facilities. Captain Minoru Genda,who helped in the planning,argued for invasion to maximize American losses. Admiral Nagumo decided to retire because of deteriorating weather, the unknown location of the American carriers, the long turnaround time required for a third strike that would allow American forces to gather and counterattack, and the fact the Nagumo’s strike force was at the extreme limit of logistical support. They were low on fuel and another strike would require them to travel at reduced speeds to conserve fuel. So he headed home. Much later Admiral Yamamoto, who supported the decision at the time, would in retrospect say it was a mistake since it allowed the U.S. to come back quickly.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941 Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)
The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941
Image: Public Domain (National Archives and Records Administration,ARC Identifier#195617)

Most of those who died at Pearl were sailors aboard the ships that were damaged or sunk. Of the 2,008 sailors killed, 1,177 were killed when the forward magazine on the USS Arizona exploded. Eighteen ships were sunk, beached, or run aground. 188 aircraft (mostly Army Air Corps) destroyed, 159 damaged. Most of the planes were destroyed on the ground. Only eight pilots got airborne and did attack Japanese aircraft but only one was shot down. Some pilots were killed or shot down later by friendly fire. Five inbound planes from USS Enterprise were shot down. The Navy lost 24 of its PBY planes. Additional casualties came from when Japanese attacked barracks. 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others were wounded. Since the U.S. was not at war, they are all classified as non-combatants. The Japanese lost 55 airmen, nine submariners and one captured. They lost 29 planes in battle and 74 were damaged by antiaircraft fire.

Most Americans were enjoying a pleasant Sunday. Secretary of State Cordell Hull met with the Japanese ambassador around  2:30 p.m., just when the first reports were coming in about the attack. Popular Sunday afternoon radio shows were interrupted with the stunning news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. From coast to coast, Americans were riveted to their radios listening to the latest updates. Lines of volunteers began forming outside military recruitment centers. The isolationist sentiment was ushered to the rear while most of the nation united against the Japanese. On 8 November before a joint session of Congress, President Roosevelt asked for a declaration of war.

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt Signing Declaration of War Against Japan
8 Dec 1941
National Archives and Records Administration

And a hour later Congress officially declared war on Japan. Far from causing the U.S. to cower, it brought Americans together like never before. Hitler’s decision to join with Japan on 11 Dec was somewhat of a surprise-to his German High Command! They had not planned with war with the U.S. so soon and now they faced a two front war with an highly industrialized power against them. Mussolini foolishly committed Italy to the war with the U.S. as well. For Japan they had control of the Pacific until June 1942. That is when the U.S. Navy engaged the Japanese at the Battle of Midway. At the end of the battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk to our one (the Yorktown). It was a shocking loss to the Japanese (and one they kept secret for as long as possible). The Doolittle Raid had convinced them to take on the American Navy directly. They did and lost spectacularly. And it shifted the balance of power in the Pacific. Admiral Yamamoto had been correct in his assessment of how the war with America would go:“I shall run wild considerably for the first six months or a year, but I have utterly no confidence for the second and third years.”

Yamamoto would not survive the war. President Roosevelt ordered that he be taken care of for his part in planning the Pearl Harbor attack. Thanks to the work of U.S. Naval Intelligence that had broken Japanese codes (code named Magic), his travel plans to the South Pacific in April, 1943 were learned. Orders were given and select pilots were used to target a very important high officer but were not told who it was. On 18 April 1943, a squadron of Lockheed P-38’s were assigned to intercept and bring down his transport being escorted by Japanese zeroes. There were two Japanese transports. After a dogfight with the Zeroes and transports, the transport with Yamamoto’s plane crashed into the jungle north of Buin, Papua New Guinea. Japanese search parties found his body, thrown from the aircraft and under a tree. He had two .50 caliber bullet wounds, one in his left shoulder and the other that had exited through his right eye. The true manner of his death was hidden from the Japanese public and not revealed until long after the war had ended. He was cremated, given a state funeral, and given posthumous titles and awards. Today the place where his plane crashed is a tourist attraction.

For more information:
Home of Heroes
Pearl Harbor Remembered
The History Place
Pearl Harbor Attack(Naval Heritage & History Command)
Battleship USS Arizona History


Titanic News for Columbus Day 2017

[Due to work and other things, I have not been able to blog regularly. I am taking steps to resume more frequent blogging]

Today is Columbus Day in the United States. It is celebrated to recall a historic exploration that resulted in the discovery of America, totally unknown to the Europeans up to that point (except for a select few vikings who found it too far away to valuable for trading etc). What we celebrate is the courage of those like Columbus who set into the unknown. Charts and maps were not wholly reliable, legends and stories often inspired them. And nor was it easy. You were on a sailing vessel deep into the sea with food supplies that had to be rationed carefully. Scurvy and other diseases caused by lack of proper food made voyages difficult to say the least. The only power was the wind; no turbines to propel you along. And you were totally isolated. There was no way to contact home and not way for them to contact you. Voyages like this could take many long months or years. The desire to explore what was out there beyond the known is something to celebrate. it took guts and a whole lot of faith when times got tough. The age of discovery that was to come would fill out our knowledge of the world and its continents. Celebrating this spirit of discovery does not mean you embrace or like what happened to many native peoples that came later. Nor do you not honor Native Americans who arguably immigrated here from Asia long before. You honor the spirit of exploration and discovery that led to many wonderful things being found about our world.

Now for Titanic News:
1)Nephew Recounts Uncle’s Experience On The Titanic (The Post-Journal, 9 Oct 2017)
Recently, guest speakers Bob Sutehall of Angola and Lorraine Cole of Fredonia presented a program marking the 105th year since the sinking of the Titanic. As people listened to the true story of Sutehall’s uncle, Henry Sutehall Jr, who boarded the ship April 10, 1912, the spirit of the RMS Titanic was in the room. While everyone envisioned this massive luxury ship, Cole appeared wearing era clothing and re-enacting the character Caroline Wick Bonnell, who was an actual passenger aboard the Titanic, and a survivor. In character, Cole acted out a scenario of that tragic night.

2)’Quite a story’: 2 Victory residents survived Titanic voyage(auburnpub.com,9 Oct 2017)
Many people don’t realize the town of Victory, and several other Cayuga County communities, have ties to the tragic 1912 sinking of the RSM Titanic. Two Victory residents, Helga and her two-year-old daughter Hildur Hirvonen, were on board the historic ship, traveling from Finland to join husband and father Eric Hirvonen in the United States, when it hit an iceberg and began to take on water over. The mother and daughter were rescued from the ship in a lifeboat. “The father was already here or he probably wouldn’t have made it because women and children were first,” Victory historian Beverly Sayles said. “It wasn’t like every man for himself the way many times it is today. It was women and children first, they had a chivalry order.”

Canfranc International Railway Station/Alberto Pascual/Wikimedia Commons

3)Though not really a Titanic story, this is about a railroad station that has called Titanic of the Mountains.  The Canfranc International Railway Station between Spain and France was once a major hub between Span and France but of course played an important role for the Nazis during World War II. It fell into decay and was abandoned in the 1970’s as a railway station. Yet many tourists came to see this once great rail station. Now comes word that it will be restored reports the Daily Mail.


Today is Labor Day (U.S.)

Labor Day Postage Stamp (1956)
United States Post Office
Public Domain

Labor Day is a U.S. federal holiday observed on the first Monday in September. It became a federal holiday in 1894 to celebrate workers and their achievements. It has also become the “unofficial” end of summer as by this time schools have reopened and most summer vacations have ended. Both federal and state offices are closed along with schools. It is also a bank holiday as well and the stock markets are closed. However most retail stores stay open while most professionals (doctors,lawyers and others along with their support staff) get the day off.

The Day Pompeii Died

Vesuvius from Portici by Joseph Wright of Derby(1734–1797)
Image:Public Domain

On 24 August 79 AD, one of the most destructive volcanic eruptions occurred in ancient history. Located in the Campania region in the Bay of Naples, the ancient city of Pompeii and those who lived around it never saw Mount Vesuvius as a threat. Their knowledge of volcanoes was limited and it had not erupted dangerously in recent memory so its dangerous past was unknown to them. As one expert put it, this volcano is a low frequency high impact one.

Pompeii
In 79 AD Pompeii was not unlike a vacation resort we know today. Wealthy Romans vacationed here and built beautiful houses and villas. Locals benefited as it meant these Romans were willing to spend money on fine foods and all kinds of other luxuries. Shops, cafes, taverns and other places flourished from the tourists who came and stayed a while. With open area squares and marketplaces, it was a busy place. It is estimated by scholars that up to 20,000 people lived here in 79 AD. In 63 AD, Pompeii and Herculaneum were shaken badly by an earthquake that damaged many houses and damaged infrastructure. Excavations have shown that by 79 AD they were still repairing the damage done from that earthquake. And that more recent ones had occurred as well.

The Last Day of Pompeii by Karl Bryullov (1799–1852)
Google Art Project
Public Domain

The Eruption of 79 AD
It was a normal day like any other. The occasional rumbles from the mountain had not particularly alarmed anyone. Around noon on 24 August 79 things changed forever. Mt.Vesuvius erupted with a massive 10 mile mushroom cloud sent into the stratosphere. All the ash and pumice would rain down over the area for the next twelve hours. At this stage it was still possible for those who could to flee. Those who remained would see it get steadily worse. Night would become day. Hot ash and pumice would fall continuously causing buildings to collapse from its weight. It became terribly difficult to breathe as well. The next morning the dawn would not be seen. And early in the morning of 25 Aug, a pyroclastic surge swept through the area. This superheated poison gas and pulverized rock traveled over 100 miles per hour. Unless you were outside the radius of the surge or deep underground, it would kill you. By the time the volcano subsided the next day, Pompeii and Herculaneum were covered completely by volcanic ash as was another town Stabiae. Those who came back to find relatives or view the scene were startled. The cities were completely buried and would remain so until the first excavations in 1748.

Pliny The Younger, staying west across the Bay of Naples, recorded what he saw in two letters he sent to Tacitus. Sadly his uncle, Pliny the Elder, would perish when he went over in his boats to Stabiae. Pliny wrote the eruption lasted eighteen hours with Pompeii buried under 14-17 feet of ash and pumice.

Vesuvius has erupted many times since. The most catastrophic one was in 1631 where it destroyed many villages under lava flows and 3,000 people died. Its last major eruption was in March 1944 and destroyed several small villages with lava. The eruption was seen from Naples and damaged (thanks to hot ash and other things)or destroyed up to 88 B-25 medium bombers based in Terzigno, Italy. The volcano is kept under constant watch to prevent anything on the scale of the eruption of 79 AD to the people who live under its shadow.

Pompeii, with Vesuvius towering above.(2010)
Author: Qfl247 (Wikimedia Commons)

Significant excavations beginning in 1927 have revealed much of what life must have been like before the destruction. More somber were the finding of some 2,000 bodies. Volcanic ash hardened and preserved the outlines of their bodies. Once the flesh had gone, the outline remained but filled in with plaster revealed those final moments of their lives. Many of the homes that have been excavated display much of how the wealthy lived in Pompeii. Ironically the city was built with materials from the last catastrophic earthquake called Avellino Eruption that occurred during the Bronze Age.


IL Duce Gets The Boot

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

On 25 Jul 1943, the long time Fascist dictator of Italy Benito Mussolini was deposed. He was deposed by his own Grand Council who had come to believe he was no longer able to govern. Italy had suffered a string of military defeats and the war itself was unpopular with large portions of the population. Mussolini himself appeared tired and overwhelmed by the military failures. Power was transferred to the king and Mussolini barely reacted to what was going on. A few tried rallying support on the council for Il Duce (the title he had given himself as fascist leader)but he appeared unable to choose a course of action. When Mussolini attended his routine meeting with King Victor Emmanuel III, he was told that General Pietro Badoglio would become prime minister. He was arrested after leaving the meeting. News of his dismissal was greeted with enthusiasm by most Italians. In public Badoglio said the war would continue but secretly he was negotiating an armistice with the allies which was signed on 3 September 1943. He also dissolved the Fascist Party.

Aftermath
Germany would invade Italy after it signed an armistice with the Allies in September 1943. Mussolini would be freed by German paratroopers, brought to Germany, and then sent back to rule from Lombardy in the newly formed Italian Social Republic. Meanwhile the Badaglio government, which had fled south to Allied controlled Italy, declared war on Germany. Northern Italy would remain under German control until April 1945. Mussolini would later be captured by partisans and executed along with his mistress trying to flee certain Allied capture on 26 April 1945.

History Channel-This Day In History
Bibliography.com-Benito Mussolini


SS Eastland Rolls Over:800-850 People Drown

SS Eastland circa 1911 Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)
SS Eastland circa 1911
Photo: public domain (Library of Congress)

On this date in 1915, the passenger ship SS Eastland rolled over while docked in the Chicago River. 844 passengers and crew were killed making it the largest loss of life from a shipwreck on the Great Lakes.

The SS Eastland was owned by St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company and was launched in May 1903 . Problems were discovered from the start. Design flaws made it top heavy and its center of gravity was too high. When lots of passengers congregated on top deck, the ship would list. While some modifications fixed issues, there were still listing problems. SS Eastland also achieved notoriety in August 1903 for a mutiny by the ships firemen. On 14 Aug, while traversing between Chicago to South Haven, Michigan some fireman refused to stoke the fires because they had not received their potatoes. The captain ordered the men arrested. Two firemen who did not participate in the mutiny had to stoke the fires until they docked. The six men were arrested by the police and later the captain was replaced.

Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/) This image is now in public domain.
Source:The Tacoma Times (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1915-07-27/ed-1/seq-7/)
This image is now in public domain.

On 24 Jul 1915 the Eastland and two other passenger steamers were chartered to take employees of Western Electric to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. For the workers, it was a major event since many did not take holidays. Boarding began at 0630 and by 0710, the ship had reached its capacity of 2,572. The ship was packed and passengers filled every possible place on the upper decks. The ship had already begun to list to port and the crew tried to balance the ship using the ballast tanks. That did not work. Numerous passengers passengers apparently rushed to the port side making it worse. At 0728, the ship lurched sharply to port and rolled over to rest on the river bottom twenty feet below the surface. Because so many were below decks to keep warm, they were trapped by the sudden rollover. Heavy furniture-pianos, bookcases, tables-crushed many inside.

The Kenosha responded immediately and came aside to allow those stranded on top to jump aboard. But for those trapped below, there was no rescue. The bodies were retrieved and taken to temporary morgues.

The president and three officers of St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company were indicted for manslaughter. The ship’s captain and engineer where charged with criminal carelessness as well. However during an extradition hearing (all six were in Michigan and had to be extradited to Illinois to stand trial) the federal judge believed there was not enough probable cause citing lack of evidence and refused to extradite. He further said the captain and engineer were merely doing their jobs.

Ironically because of the 1915 Seamen’s Act passed after Titanic’s demise, the additional weight of the lifeboats probably worsened the top-heavy issues of the ship.

A historical marker along the Chicago River marks the event. Plans are also underway to construct an outdoor exhibit where Eastland sank.

Eastland Goes Navy
The Eastland was raised and sold to the Illinois Naval Reserve and commissioned USS Wilmette . She was reconfigured as a gun boat and primarily used for training. Her only action came after the war when she was tasked with sinking a captured German U-Boat in 1921. Most of her career after that was training naval reservists. In 1941, her training duty was altered to train naval armed crews on merchant ships. Her most prestigious task was to take President Roosevelt and others to Whitefish Bay to plan war strategies in 1943. She was decommissioned in 1945 and sold for scrap in 1946.

Sources:
1. SS Eastland (Wikipedia)
2. Eastland Memorial Society
3.Eastland Disaster Historical Society