In his blog, my friend, David Mayer tells the overlooked story of the Eastland disaster on the Chicago River in 1915. It provided a grim illustration of how governmental safety regulations can have unintended and fatal results. According to Mayer
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.