Rep. Lipinski Introduces Resolution Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Eastland Disaster in the Chicago River

844 Passengers & Crew Lost their Lives in Horrible Maritime Tragedy

The Chicago Fire Department and other off-duty emergency personnel immediately responded
to the scene to coordinate the rescue efforts. Photo courtesy of Eastland Disaster History Society.


Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3) today introduced a resolution, H. Res. 375, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Eastland, in which 844 passengers and crew lost their lives when the vessel capsized in the Chicago River.  The resolution also notes the heroic efforts of civilians, the US Coast Guard, and Chicago Police and Fire Departments, to save hundreds more from the disaster, which occurred only feet from shore.

July 24th of this year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Eastland in the Chicago River.  The Eastland was one of 5 vessels chartered to take Western Electric workers across Lake Michigan for an annual company picnic. Within 15 minutes of the gangplank being raised, theEastland listed 45 degrees and soon capsized.  844 passengers drowned – more passengers than either the Titanic or the Lusitania – but unfortunately, this disaster has been largely forgotten by the American people. Ted Wachholz, president of the Eastland Disaster Historical Society, has suggested that the reason the Eastland has been overshadowed by other wrecks is that “there wasn’t anyone rich or famous onboard… they were all hardworking, salt-of-the-earth immigrant families.”   

“One hundred years ago, thousands of employees of Western Electric were preparing for a rare day off of work, taking a boat ride across Lake Michigan to enjoy an annual picnic.  Tragically, for 844 passengers and crew on the Eastland, their vessel listed and tipped over, and they soon drowned in the Chicago River.  Many were immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, living in Berwyn, Cicero, and the surrounding Chicagoland area, and their loss left an enduring mark on these communities – 22 families were completely wiped out, and 19 families were left without parents.  I will always remember my grandmother talking about the tragedy and the mark it left on her.  We should honor and remember these working class families, and never forget their legacy,” said Rep. Lipinski

The resolution is also cosponsored by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Randy Hultgren, Luis Gutierrez, Robin Kelly, Tammy Duckworth, Bill Foster, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Danny Davis, Mike Quigley, Cheri Bustos and Rodney Davis.

"The Eastland Disaster claimed the lives of 844 people, making it Chicago's greatest loss-of-life tragedy. It devastated thousands more. The victims and the thousands impacted were 1st- and 2nd-generation immigrants. These hard-working, ordinary people defined Chicago in 1915, just as the current ethnically diverse population defines Chicago today. It is important that we preserve the legacies of the thousands of ordinary people whose lives were affected by the Eastland Disaster, and also connect people today to these legacies and the history of the tragedy. We are grateful that Congressman Dan Lipinski is offering a resolution in Congress to honor the victims, survivors, and those who responded to the Eastland Disaster,” said Ted Wachholz, Executive Director and Chief Historian of the Eastland Disaster Historical Society.

“To this day, the Eastland shipwreck caused the greatest loss of life of any disaster in Illinois history.  While we must keep in our memories those lost 100 hundred years ago, we should also recall the brave individuals who put themselves in harm’s way to save others from the watery grave and recover those who passed.  And we must always remain vigilant towards maritime safety, to assure no tragedy like this ever occurs again,” Lipinski concluded.