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Titanic exhibit: Grand Rapids senator investigated sinking

10:27 PM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) - The Titanic exhibition is now on display at the Grand Rapids Public museum. The disaster led Washington to enact new regulations to improve ship safety. But those regulations likely would not have come without the work of a man from Grand Rapids.

William Alden Smith worn in Dowagiac and moved to Grand Rapids in 1872. Smith became an attorney and eventually a U.S. Senator.

Smith was put in charge of the committee investigating the Titanic disaster. Among the 53 witnesses he interrogated was Bruce Ismay, the Titanic's creator who survived the sinking. Senator Smith found Ismay in New York, awaiting the next boat back to England.

"He was waiting at the dock and he grabbed Ismay and Ismay seemed to be very agreeable to testify," said Erick O'Brock of the Titanic Historical Society in Grand Rapids.

On May 28, 1912, Senator Smith delivered what one paper called a "scathing speech" on the Titanic disaster. He said the event "should be the occasion for a new birth of vigilance..." Smith's investigation led to many changes in maritime safety that remain in place to this day.

"He made sea travel safer, I think-- at least ships going to America," said O'Brock.

After retiring from the senate, Smith remained active in Grand Rapids' business community. He owned the city's leading newspaper of the time: The Grand Rapids Herald.

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