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Senate subcommittee questioning J. Bruce Ismay at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, photograph, April 19, 1912

As a member of Congress, Senator William A. Smith (far end of table) had experience addressing safety issues in transportation. In order to question White Star Line chairman J. Bruce Ismay (right of Smith, chin in hand), who survived the disaster, and remaining crewmembers before they returned to England, Smith’s subcommittee opened hearings in New York on April 19.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Senate subcommittee questioning J. Bruce Ismay at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, photograph, April 19, 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