The Eastland Boat Disaster, 1915

On July 24, 1915, about 2,500 Western Electric Co. employees and family members boarded the steamship Eastland for a Saturday jaunt to a company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. Docked on the Chicago River between LaSalle and Clark streets, the ship began listing as it filled with passengers, and it suddenly overturned.

Victims were trapped in or under the ship. The luckier were throw into the river, where they had a chance to swim to shore. The list of the dead numbered 844, making it the worst accident in Chicago history.

One possible cause of the disaster was ironic: When the Titanic sank in 1912, the Eastland was fitted with extra lifeboats, possibly making the ship top-heavy. Other theories were that tons of concrete had been added to shore up rotting decks and floors and possibly the ballast system was defective.

While six men were held to the Grand Jury , no one was ever convicted because the charges were changed to conspiracy to operate an unsafe ship and they were not able to prove anyone conspired. After 20 years of litigation, only the Chief Engineer was found to have any blame.

Small if any damages were ever paid to the dead and injured because only the shell of the ship was insured for $50,000.00 and $35,000.00 was used up to raise the ship and $15,000.00 went to other creditors.

Among the 844 dead were 22 entire families.