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The Power of Investigation: The Titanic Disaster 1912

How could it happen? That’s what people asked after the Titanic went down with many prominent Americans among the approximately 1,500 who died. The Senate asked too. Although the ship was British, there were lessons to be learned by all seafaring nations. In 1912, a special Senate subcommittee convened to investigate the Titanic disaster.

Surviving passengers and crew, and company officials, testified to the subcommittee with vivid and dramatic accounts that drew eager attention from the press and public. The hearings were the first to be held in the Senate’s ornate new Caucus Room. Though the Titanic investigation did not lead to criminal prosecutions, the subcommittee did recommend laws to improve ship safety.

  • The R.M.S. Titanic sets out from the White Star Line dock at Southampton, England on April 10, 1912.

    The R.M.S. Titanic sets out from the White Star Line dock at Southampton, England on April 10, 1912.

    © Ralph White/CORBIS

  • Headline of The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., April 20, 1912

    Headline of The Evening Star, Washington, D.C., April 20, 1912

    Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

  • During six weeks of investigative hearings, ending May 28, 1912, a Senate Commerce Committee panel interviewed 82 witnesses and produced 1,100 pages of testimony.

    During six weeks of investigative hearings, ending May 28, 1912, a Senate Commerce Committee panel interviewed 82 witnesses and produced 1,100 pages of testimony.

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congresst

    Hearing on the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912

    Within a week of the ship’s sinking, the Committee on Commerce began hearings. Among the 82 witnesses who testified was Frederick Fleet, the lookout in the crow’s nest, who described the fatal collision.

    National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.

  • Chart No. 2, Titanic, 1912

    Presented as evidence at the hearing, this chart shows the positions of ice and other ships in the vicinity of the Titanic the night it sank.

    National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.