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The Titanic sets out from the White Star Line dock at Southampton, England, photograph by Ralph White, April 10, 1912

The largest, most luxurious liner of its day, the Titanic sailed from Southampton, England, on its maiden voyage to New York. Reputed to be unsinkable, the ship carried only enough lifeboats to hold about half of the approximately 2,225 people on board, meeting minimum safety requirements of the time.

© Ralph White/CORBIS

The Titanic sets out from the White Star Line dock at Southampton, England, photograph by Ralph White, April 10, 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