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S. Res. 283, Resolution to investigate the causes leading to the wreck of the White Star liner Titanic, April 17, 1912

Three days after the Titanic catastrophe, Senator William A. Smith of Michigan proposed that the Committee on Commerce investigate the disaster that took many American lives. His resolution quickly passed the Senate. Smith chaired the subcommittee on the investigation and led the hearings, assisted by Senator Francis G. Newlands of Nevada.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

S. Res. 283, Resolution to investigate the causes leading to the wreck of the White Star liner Titanic, April 17, 1912

The Sinking of the RMS Titanic

On April 14, 1912, the British ship Titanic collided with an iceberg and sank. More than 1,500 of those aboard died, including scores of Americans. To understand the cause of the accident, a Senate Committee on Commerce subcommittee acted quickly to obtain testimony from survivors, witnesses, rescuers, and officials. The subcommittee concluded that the catastrophe was an “act of God,” but criticized certain actions of the Titanic’s builders, owners, and crew. Congress responded with the Radio Act of 1912 and other legislation to improve maritime safety.

Our course was simple and plain—to gather the facts relating to this disaster while they were still vivid realities. . . . It was vital that the entire matter should be reviewed before an American tribunal if legislative action was to be taken for future guidance on international maritime safety.

Senator William A. Smith of Michigan, Speech to the Senate, May 28, 1912