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1930s & Earlier / SS Eastland Disaster - 1915
On Saturday, July 24, 1915 the S.S. Eastland, a Chicago-based passenger steamer ship, welcomed nearly 2,600 people aboard. Most were employees of the Western Electric Company's Hawthorne Works in Cicero, IL and their families. The Eastland was docked at a pier in the Chicago River. Passengers began boarding at 6:30 a.m. Their destination was Michigan City, IN--a three-hour trip across Lake Michigan for a day of fun and recreation at an enormous company picnic. The last passengers boarded the Eastland at about 7:10 a.m. At 7:28 a.m., still tied to the dock, the Eastland took on water, lurched dramatically to its port side (away from the dock) where most of the passengers had moved to, and quickly capsized. About one-third of the passengers--844 people--and four crew members were trapped within the doomed ship and were either crushed to death or drowned in 20 feet of water. How did the catastrophe happen? First, the ship was overloaded with both passengers and the weight of additional lifeboats mandated by new maritime safety laws. In previous trips that summer, the Eastland had carried 1,100 passengers at most. Second, renovations and additions to the Eastland has raised its height and dangerously shifted the ship's center of gravity. Third, the Eastland's ballast tanks were initially empty. If they had been filled before the passengers boarded, they could have provided more stable balance for the Eastland. Twenty-two entire families perished in the disaster. One notable person who had bought a ticket for the Eastland, but fortunately for him arrived at the dock too late to board the ship, was 20-year-old Western Electric employee George Halas. He had intended to play in the baseball game at the company picnic. Halas, after playing 24 games for the New York Yankees in 1919, would later be one of the key figures in founding the National Football League.