Congress in the Archives will feature monthly staff posts on our blog. Today’s post comes from Center archivist Kris Wilhelm.
I like to cite this exchange between Senator William A. Smith (R-MI), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee’s special subcommittee to investigate the Titanic disaster, and Harold G. Lowe, Titanic’s fifth officer, as an example of something silly from a congressional hearing. Taken in context, however, it captures the shock and disbelief shared by millions around the world that a mere chunk of ice could bring down a creation as mighty as the RMS Titanic. On this 100th anniversary of the sinking, we commemorate the 1,517 lives lost that night in one of the most famous disasters of the 20th century.
The subcommittee hearings began at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City a mere four days after the sinking. The 1,171 printed pages of transcripts read like a Who’s Who of Titanic characters: J. Bruce Ismay, the general manager of the White Star Line; Arthur H. Rostron, the captain of the Carpathia; Fredrick Sammis, chief engineer of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co.; passengers; stewards; telegraphers; quartermasters; lookouts; firemen; officers; even a lamp trimmer and second donkeyman. They detail the ship’s design and construction, communications capabilities, speed, passenger experience, evacuation, and rescue efforts.
The hearings and final report of the Senate Commerce Committee’s special subcommittee as well as the findings of the British government’s investigation into the sinking were printed as Senate Documents and are available in many federal depository libraries throughout the United States.
As a result of the subcommittee’s findings, S.J. Res. 111 was introduced by the subcommittee’s chair, Senator William A. Smith (R-MI). S.J. Res. 111 awarded the crew of the Carpathia medals for rescuing 704 survivors of the Titanic.
Senate Commerce Committee subcommittee hearings on the Titanic Disaster, 62nd Congress, 2nd session, April 24, 1912, S. Doc. 726, U.S. Serial Set volume 6167
S.J. Res. 111, 1912, Records of the U.S. Senate
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